Something a bit different....

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by allen herbert, Nov 12, 2011.

  1. I enjoy looking at photographs almost as much as taking Photographs. I try to understand why the Photographer took that particular Photograph and what they are communicating;;their vision. So, i try to join them on their journey and see what they are seeing.
    Over the next few weeks and maybe beyond, I'm going to post some links to Photographs what are considered " Greats" or particulary good street Photographs. I have my own take on them which I will share but I'm intersted in yours... what is your take on these Photographss....the key element as to why they are Greats or perhaps not.
    This week I'm going to type in Google " the greatest street photo ever" are they and why? There are a number of examples but i have chosen this one... Why is it considerd one of the greatest street photographs...ever?Intersted in your thought and thank you for sharing them.
  2. I think the subject is very good, if not great, but that the photograph does not meet up to my standards for greatness. The photographer needed to get much lower down for the photograph. We don't need all that foreground, looking more directly into the phone booth would make us feel more part of the scene and having more background above the shot would make it feel more Street than just a bad candid shot.
    Okay, I've put my opinions out on the limb for you all.
  3. To the contrary, I think that the framing/cropping is as deliberate as can be, and enhances the sense of being crammed into the phone booth. The image is about the claustrophic circumstances and the main subject's size relative to the booth, and the composition - right down to running the phone booth into the upper margin of the shot while having the relief of all of that foreground space doing nothing to help those poor kids - works. It's not that I love it, but I believe I get it.
  4. I good street photograph has to have a visual pun, a joke, something going on in the photo that contrast with something else, like fluffy white hair next to a fluffy white clowd. Rather that try to explain it take a look at some of the stuff at or the work of Elliot Erwitt.
  5. I love Helen Levitt's photography. I don't know that I would have recognized this as her photo if it wasn't identified as such. Her trademark was photographing inner-city poor people, particularly children, during a time when no one else had thought to do it. This is a classic photo and a great one, because there were few photographers of note (Gordon Parks for one) who brought artistic endeavor to the ghettos of the US at that time.
  6. It has real movement in it.
  7. Great topic Allen. About time someone put some life in this dormitory ;-)
    great or greatest is always a debatable adjective. This particular photo however illustrates nicely in which domain she worked. Levitt's photo's when you look closely at them are hardly ever remarkable in the sense that there is no strong drama, just ordinary life unfolding in front of her lens. People doing their everyday stuff or children caught up in their own world. A lot of street photographers shoot plain stuff like that but only every now and then they succeed in shooting one that acutally qualifies as a good or layered photo. Levitt however did it consistently. Her compositions, seemingly not very deliberate, are often very well planned. So is this one. While the main subject is centrally placed what goes on on both sides is just as important. Is it a great photo? Perhaps. Is it a one-dimensional snap? Surely not.
    Levitt has consistently taken ordinary life to another level, be it a nostalgic one.
  8. Call it like it is...It sucks. Levitt or not. And I do like Helen Levitt's work. With street, most are misses, say, even Levitt, HCB or Winogrand. It's the nature of the beast.
  9. I mean really: you can be a professional critic with a master's degree in art, or you can be a part-time waitress with an I-phone, it all boils down to whether you like the photo or not. But, I need a little more than, "It sucks" for me to consider it a thoughtful response. Why does it 'suck'? BTW, Mrs. Levitt died early 2010 I think. There was a link posted to her obituary last year.
  10. Let's ignore the fact that this particular photograph was taken by someone who "has a name". If I had posted the photo for critique in the Street Category on PN would anyone be rating it with number 7s? I doubt it very much and I suspect that the average rating would be around 4.1 at the best.
    This discussion is not about the greatness of the photographer, but about the greatness of the photograph. In this case we have the potential for a great photograph but the photographer lost the opportunity. In my previous response I have already stated the reasons for my opinions on this matter, but I too have feelings such as Leslie's even though they are not fully expressed.
  11. I can't type really on this lousy PC and I don't have a mouse. That said, You called it "classic" and "great" without much evidence/support either in your post. Do we not need something more from you to be a "thoughful" response, E? How exactly is it "artistic?"
    FWIW It doesn't appeal to me because I find it aesthetically unappealing, compositionly unattractive (cut off bodies), ugly colorwise and there's no visual pun at all (not that there needs to be one to be great imo) except it's sorta crampy. If that's the point (deliberate unbalanced, top heavy composition, ugly color, ugly aesthetics) I'll give it a B but everything else just suck in my book. There's no emotional facial expression, gesture nor mannerism that I could see (the girl's face is too small, very small impact, if at all)...
    Lastly, all this is just my opinion, of course I find most street photos boring, even many of the modern In-Public SP rock stars. I have no photographic ambition, no axe to grind... I call it like I see it.
  12. Now...if it were in a series of inner city/ghettos photos in the, say, 60's, I could see how it could work (fit in). But just as a single, it doesn't do for me at all.
    Actually, maybe 70's or 80's, I should have said.
  13. Does anyone else here recall an article from years back in which a HCB photograph was put online for a forum critique and it did not exactly get glowing reviews which went on for some time before the joke got discovered. It was one of his famous pictures, the one looking down a spiral staircase with the bicycle rider racing across the top. It proves two things that I'm sure most of us are aware of: 1) Don't get into street photography if you want to be famous and 2) not everything an artist produces will be considered as art by everyone.
  14. >>> Does anyone else here recall an article from years back in which a HCB photograph was put online for a forum critique and it did not exactly get glowing reviews which went on for some time before the joke got discovered.
    Marc, it was this on one of the Delete Me Uncensored flickr groups. Link...
  15. Yeah it's good. very good but best ever? Well that's totally subjective and personal.
  16. Yep that's the one Brad, thanks for the refresher. As for Levittes photograph, I like it. It's unique in that I cannot recall ever seeing a similar photo. The closest that comes to mind was a photograph (probably a reproduction) of a bunch of college kids cramming themselves into a phone booth. This picture was on the wall of a pizza joint in San Jose CA. It had a bit of a 1950's pop culture decor which would explain the picture.
    There's a flickr group called Your Photo Isn't Really That Great. The moderator requested one of my 3rd St. Promenade pictures to be added to their pool. At first I didn't know what to think but then when I looked at the pool and saw so many wonderfully odd pictures, I thought mine was too boring to add. I added it anyway, what the hell I thought.
  17. Leslie, thanks for answering my question. I like it because, in the context of the times it was taken, other photographers weren't looking at that type of subject matter. No one cared about overweight Eastern European immigrants who were too poor to afford a house phone, and too tired to shrug of the house dress and slippers to put on 'something decent' to walk down the street and make a phone call with two snot-nosed mamma's boys clinging to her with all the love they had. I like it because the best street photographers Humanists above all. They project empathy with the subject through the lens somehow. It's like magic if you are open to it. Not everyone is, and not for all photographs. I like this photograph because I can feel that positive energy coming through from 50 years ago.
  18. No problem, E. I guess I would feel and like the photo's nostalgia, if I was around then. I only read about it and saw it in movies. I didn't read/considered the photograph from a doc. historical perspective...
  19. I like it because the best street photographers Humanists above all.​
    should read "...the best street photographers are Humanists above all." Of course this is my opinion. Another horse we beat around here is "What is Street Photography?." I'm of the opinion that it's all about people. But there is plenty of room for everyone else's opinion too. Leslie, when you say you find most street photo's boring, have you stopped shooting street also? Allen, hope I not getting too far off topic. It's all related....somehow.
  20. Yes and no...just doing other thingys for now, E.
  21. [In my opinion] The color palette and subject matter are pure Levitt to. What makes this picture unusual is the spatial tension between the receding horizontal picture plane and the vertical subframe of the telephone booth. Two apparent perspectives in one image. The picture has a three-part subdivision in the top third, which act as further subframes, with the woman with the shopping bag on the upper right, the bus behind it as a vertical (and an echo of the phone booth part in negative), and the turning motorcyclist on the upper left, and the street receding into the distance. Three variations on one theme. The Mom and kids in the booth are volumetric figures filling that subframe. Atget has a conceptually similar image of a street view head-on towards the houses or storefronts, and a cross street angling uphill. For me, the best street photographers are the brilliant ones, and Levitt, specially considering her self-imposed limits and day job, qualified then -- and now.
    Ton - "About time someone put some life in this dormitory ;-)"
    I agree.
  22. If we are talking about a Photograph it is inpossible to go off topic, E.Short. I thought your response was excellent reminding me that Street Photography is very much about Documentry not just capturing clever moments.
    I thought the photo was humerous... two children, like they do, rushing into the phone box before thier mother and getting trapped. A very good street photo, but not a great to my mind, either in content or composition. But still a clever catch. However, to understand a Photographers work fully we need to look at the total body of work to properly appreciate it.

    The reason why I have posted this thread is to, in a sense, to use others eyes to see what mine is perhaps missing in a photo or body of work. There used to be a regular poster on this forum who's photos just did not work for me I found them boring. Then someone did a critique on one of the photos which opened my eyes to see what they were seeing. A revelation in understanding and appreciating.
  23. No one really knows...But maybe she framed/cropped it the way she did was of more a pragmatic, snap judgement....Maybe there were something distracting on top of the phone booth (or back ground) that she didn't want to include. And maybe the motorbike guy on the left and lady w/ bag on the top right had no special meaning but happened by pure chance timing (due to the decisive capturing of the three in the phone booth)
    And as for Levitt's "pure" color palette and subject matter. Uhmm...perhaps, she just used the same kodak film and walked around in similar city part at around the same time of the day (and had the same printer) People read far too much into photos too often imo. Serious artists are far more pragmatic and practical than most people assume.

    The small kid and the fat person (mother?) gesture/juxapose in the booth, I admit, is a bit humorus tho:)
  24. Leslie Cheung: Serious artists are far more pragmatic and practical than most people assume.

  25. The photo works for me, but I think the colors diminish its effect. B&W seems to be more poignant in most street photography (Mrs,. Levitt's included). For a good color image from this series, see
    It works not just from the chromatic viewpoint, but also compositionally (chiaroscuro, balance of masses, perspective, few if any unwanted details, bringing together of the different elements....)
  26. Time for another phone booth shot... ;>)
  27. Why is it that after I blatantly preface a response in this thread with "[In my opinion]", to an OP that is asking us:
    ".... what is your take [Italics mine] on these Photographs....the key element as to why they are Greats or perhaps not."
    And my reply, my take, gets attacked by guys who are somehow thinking that what *I* see in that picture is synonymous with what Ms. Levitt saw? Where did I say that? I did not.
    Not to mention that these guys seem to actually think they know what was in her mind, then in all serious artists' minds. Please.
  28. Attacked? Really now...
  29. Never mind. Thanks, Brad.
  30. Are you really serious, Luis? <<seems Luis just deleted his post right above>>

    Leslie's response is simply discussion; in disagreement with your position. And Dennis agreed with Leslie's take.
  31. I like Helen Levitt's body of work a lot. But this isn't one of her best's just kind of a pedestrian shot, in my opinion. There's too much foreground, for one thing; it's not particularly interesting from a composition standpoint; and the only bit of humor I get out of it is a fat lady squeezing into a booth with her kids. It's okay, but not great.
    In fact, although I am no Helen Levitt, I like my phone booth picture better than hers. Sometimes we think what we do is a work of art...and sometimes people think their art critiques are works of art. Maybe we're all delusional...
    Allen, thanks for starting this thread, mate. It is interesting.
  32. Brad, I have no doubt that in your mind it is just that. Thanks for whatever it is you're doing.
  33. Dennis C. - "sometimes people think their art critiques are works of art. Maybe we're all delusional..."
    Grade school bickering, Dennis. Clever by half. You do enjoy the hostilities and game-playing here, don't you? No, I don't think my critiques are anything except my own thoughts. At least I wasn't "channeling" Ms. Levitt. My opinion was my own.
  34. Puhleeeeeese... Stop playing the victim.

    And yes I like Dennis' phonebooth photo much more.
  35. Ummmm, Luis...please note that in my remarks I left open the possibility that I, too, may be delusional in my assessment of my own work. Your (over)reaction to Leslie's comments tends to suggest that you have a very high opinion of your art critiques.
    I think Leslie made an excellent point...that no one knows exactly why Helen Levitt took the shot the way she did...and he offered some possibilities. In my personal experience as a photographer I would tend to agree with some of his suggestions. But I don't consider myself a "serious artist". Nevertheless, I know photographers who are much more accomplished than I and, in conversations with them, I know there are often practical and pragmatic reasons why they shot certain things the way they did...just as Leslie suggested.
    Look, you may be an intelligent guy, but that doesn't mean you are right all the time...particularly on something as subjective as photgraphy.
  36. Dennis - "Your (over)reaction to Leslie's comments tends to suggest that you have a very high opinion of your art critiques."
    Damn, Dennis, now you're grade-school insulting me implying righteouness? How could I be "wrong" (or righteous) on what *I* saw in that picture? It's what I saw, not you, nor Brad, Leslie nor Levitt -- or anyone else. I never said she saw what I saw, for Christ's sakes, man. It remains what I saw in the picture, not what motivated Levitt to frame and time that picture as she did. Don't you get it? Leslie is arguing with himself.
    But this is certainly a huge waste of my time, and I am sure the gentle readers of this fine forum would rather be counting nubs on a popcorn ceiling than reading this, so you get the last word. I can't wait until the next Sanford picture...
  37. I don't think I attacked anyone nor was it my intention. And I wasn't arguing with myself. I was just offering a different POV. That's all...
  38. Leslie, it's a new day. I accept your explanation.
  39. Agree with Luis... There's an interesting spatial thing going on in the photograph that helps bring it to a
    special level. That along with her particular sympathetic approach to her subject matter makes it
    a nice fit in a great body of work.

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