I'm becoming bored with "Street Photography".

The title to this piece is not altogether what it seems, and I implore anyone who should stumble across this to read the following to its end. There is a reason, as you will see.

Back in September I posted an entry where I went after Michael Ernest Sweet for what I saw as his pompous and hypocritical attitude to street photography cliches. I am not taking back a word of what I said. I still think Sweet is a bloody hypocrite. Had he not criticised without admitting his own culpability, I would now have little;e problem with what he wrote. And it is in following up on the issues he raised that I am writing this. The issues are much bigger than Sweet, although I doubt he would endorse that sentiment.

For all of us who, wholly or in part, make images on the street I consider it necessary to consider those photographers who were pioneers in the genre. I am thinking of Gary Winogrand-although he didn’t like the term—Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander et al. And when I say consider, I mean consider in depth. Spend a number of hours looking at their work. View documentaries about them. Inspect, dissect and analyse their images until, in the words of Bruce Gilden, you can “smell the street”. And then having done that do it again.

Following this, the next step should be to view what increasingly populates the “collectives” and individual postings of “Street Photography”. Do you not find there to be an almost stultifying sameness about it? Can a photograph of anyone on a cell phone ever be interesting? Sweet considers photos of young women on phones to be cliched, by which I have to infer that he finds photos of men similar employed to be acceptable. A picture of someone on a phone could be interesting if, for example, they were having their pockets picked at the same time. Perhaps if a vehicle was bearing down on someone jay walking while looking at a phone might be equally, if not more, than heart stopping. But when did you last see a photograph like that?

Similarly with umbrellas. Look at the masters: Doisneau, Erwitt, Koudelka to name but a few and see the function of the umbrella as it fits into the whole image. if a photo of an umbrella is all there is, then no matter whether it was taken in the street or in an umbrella shop, all you have is an umbrella. Nothing else. Come to think of it, an image in a shop might be more interesting. It would be difficult to be less so.

What about colour? The age of “presets” has rendered far too many images indistinguishable from others. The reds, the yellows and the greens all have that sameness about them to such an extent that the name of the photographer is as meaningless as the image. My advice is to study the work of Martin Parr and Bruce Gilden. Parr, again, would not describe himself as a street photographer where Gilden exults in the description. Look at their colours and compare them to what so much occupies room on Instagram.


I could go on, but I hope you have managed to stay with me so far. This is my mea culpa. I have done all of the things that I have mentioned here and others too awful and prolific to enumerate. I have no doubt that, despite my best intentions, I will continue to do so although I hope in not such quantities.

The question is how to reduce these photographic atrocities and to depopulate the “Street Photography” collectives of this dross. I can only speak for myself, mindful that my own efforts will be as significant as Canada’s federally-imposed carbon tax will have on climate change. I am, as the title to this piece asserts, bored with “Street Photography”. That does not mean I am bored with street photography, only with its manifestations in certain areas hence the quotation marks to distinguish between the real thing and its imitations. Consequently I am altering my own approach. I am going to be much more brutal in my editing. And let me detour for a minute. By editing I mean the selection of images, not the pixel manipulation with pre-sets and other digital “tools” that collectively seem to have usurped the meaning of “edit” for so many. I will be rigorously measuring my images against the assertions of those who have gone before and those few who are still shooting street photography. Can I “smell the street”? Does the image “tell a story"? Does it make a statement? Does it ask questions? Does it put the viewer into the action? Is it close enough? Is it too busy? These and many other questions on a register of acceptability will be the yardstick by which I will judge my own work. How many times will I be able to tick off an acceptable, to me at least, number of boxes.? Not too many, obviously and that means my submissions will be fewer by an order of magnitude. Perhaps though, I will break with the tyranny of an exhortation to publish (read post) daily. That is a possibility that might well bring joy to some people. So be it.