Street Photography


New Windsor, New York. Women wait for the return of U.S. hostages from Iran in 1980. This “grab shot” is an example of the street photography style (D.Dunleavy).


“Photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision.” – Susan  SontagOn Photoraphy

The problem with photography is that anyone owning a camera thinks they are a photographer. In many ways they are, but makes someone a photographer is vision, perseverance, and consistency. Street photographers are a different breed than  other genres such as photojournalism. One distinction between street and other variants of straight photograph is that the street photographer tends to live for the moment, like a kid in a candy store always in search of the perfect sweet. Moreover, street photography rely on found moments, serendipity, dumb luck, and “machine gunning” everything in sight. Some would argue that by holding down the shutter and more or less point the camera at something or someone the street photographer is bound to get some  unexpected results. Needless to say, this approach to picture making seems to  require more luck than skill. At the same time, street photography evolved over time as a counter movement to the predictable and normalized nature of photojournalism as well as the concrete, albeit confessional view of the world in documentary photography.

The Encyclopedia of Photographic Art defines street photography:

“…the street photographer is an essentially neutral bystander. He is not concerned to draw any evidentiary conclusions from the snapshot. Instead the street photograph should ‘speak for itself’. That said, there can be a thinner dividing line between the two genres when it comes to early works before the widespread use of instant cameras. In general, the more factual or educational the photo, the more likely it is to be documentary. Conversely, the more instantaneous or opportunistic the snapshot, the more likely it is to be a ‘street photograph’.”

French photographer, Eugene Atget, is known as a pioneer in street photography. In the 1890s, Atget roamed the streets of Paris capturing life as he saw it. especially the architecture of the city. Next, Adres Kertez is best known for this informal approach, but it wasn’t until   Henri Cartier-Bresson came along with his idea of the “decisive moment. Bresson’s style has influenced generations of photographers ever since the 1930s. In more recent times photographers such as Diane Arbus and Garry Winnograd have elevated  street photography to an art form.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954 (Magnum).



After viewing the short video on Garry Winograd, reflect on the differences between street photography and documentary photography. Which style do you identify with more and if so, why?

San Salvador, El Salvador, 1993, Child sniffing shoe glue , D. Dunleavy