A lot of people dislike street photography. A lot of photographers dislike street photography. That’s okay, I understand that. What I don’t understand is those ‘photographers’ who insist that only street photography done in large cities has anything of interest.
I read a comment recently along the lines of ‘street photography has nothing new to offer and that unless it was New York then it was boring anyway’.
Judging by the available books on street photography I can see where this argument comes from. There seems to be an inordinate emphasis on large cities, New York in particular. Street photography videos on youTube seem to have the same viewpoint. Of course, this is in part due to the fact that some classic photos of the genre are taken there and outspoken characters such as Bruce Gilden made their names there.
Occasionally Paris, London, Tokyo might get a look in but the idea is still the same. Street photography belongs in the big cities.
I can see the attraction but I think all too often people are photographing the city rather than the people. We are attracted to the hustle and bustle and the city can compensate sometimes for the lack of human interest.
This overemphasis risks missing out on a lot of opportunities. Everywhere has something to offer and often the most interesting opportunities are closer to home.
To a great extent where we photograph depends on what we want to show. If we are interested in the more ‘graphical’ aspects of photography then Times Square or the Eiffel tower can be more accommodating than the local Tesco. If we are interested in portraying the human condition then wherever people are photographic opportunities are also found.
I’ve travelled very little. Almost all the photos on this site and in ‘After the Coal Dust’ are taken in small local towns. We have become accustomed to seeing portrayals of big city life but we risk missing that which is under our noses.
Big City, Big Camera
Photographing in smaller, less cosmopolitan areas presents a different set of challenges. Firstly people expect to see cameras in tourist areas and it’s easier for the photographer to blend in. No one looks twice at a DSLR or Leica in London but in a former mining town in the north people aren’t used to it. In most minds there is nothing to photograph so why tote a camera?
Secondly, people are often more suspicious of the photographers’ motives for taking pictures. Are you Work and Pensions? Police? Someone with ulterior motives?
The positive side is that there is a chance to get the photographs that haven’t been seen countless times before. A chance to show real people living real lives. Big city photographs, perhaps show what we desire to see; maybe small town photos show what we really are.
Of course, there is scope for it all; Paris and Pontefract, Tokyo and Todmorden, New York and Nuneaton. To limit our options does a disservice to the people who live in these places and a disservice to ourselves as photographers.
8 thoughts on “I’ve never been to New York!”
Yes, great article. Street photography shows the reality. Thank you for that.
Thank you, Heidi.
“If we are interested in portraying the human condition then wherever people are photographic opportunities are also found.” Kudos John Gill and Bridget Gill
Thank you, David.
John, if you have a look at my work, shown in Facebook and Instagram, you will get to know why I agree with you. Streetphotos of high value can be taken in tiny villages and it needs no avenues or shopping streets to document people’s living conditions or to show their feelings in gestures or in body language.
We’re not big travellers.
As you say there’s plenty of subjects wherever you go. It’s about the people more than he location.