Urban snapshots or Street photography?

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by melissa_eiselein, Sep 1, 2004.

  1. Ellis ruffled a few feathers when he said "Street Photography" was
    meaningless jargon for candid photography. He might have ruffled a
    few more when he equated street photography with urban snapshots.

    To some degree, however, I think he made an interesting point. Some
    people see street photography as an outlet for people that can't
    shoot "art". But then, there are people who love Thomas Kincade's
    paintings and there are those who thinks he's simply a cheap
    commercial artist. Everyone has their own tastes. And it seems like
    street photography is an acquired taste...sort of like good wine and
    cheap beer.

    Many times, when I look at a street photo, all I see is a snapshop
    taken in an urban setting. There is no theme, no message and no
    emotion. Every now and then, however, I see a shot that speaks to
    me. Those are either wonderfully visual shots like Tom Meyer's shot
    of the boy in red walking in front of a very interesting wall, Kris
    H's chairs and woman under umbrella pic or Brad's shoe shine man

    When I'm out and about, I sometimes snap pictures of people that I
    think are interesting or, in some way, different. But they're
    usually pretty bad pictures. They are boring, what a professional
    (and very artistic) photographer friend refers to as "pedestrian".

    Five paragraphs into my post, I'm finally getting to the reason for
    my post. I'm curious. How do you distinguish "Street Photography"
    from "Urban Snapshots" in yours and others work? What makes a good
    street photographer stand out from a "pedestrian" photographer? We
    talked about what you look for, but what do you avoid?
  2. It doesn't matter what you call it. I get the feeling half the people speculating on this crap and calling whatever "pedestrian" don't know what the fuk (pardon the French) they're talking about. Some of them couldn't take a decent street photograph if their life depended on it.
  3. EricM

    EricM Planet Eric

    This is the only definition I need.
  4. ... Warning: May be hazardous to dial-up user's health.
  5. i agree with ray. too me street photography is not about snapshots. it takes a skilled
    eye to see and create a image where you have no control of the conditions or
    environment. this is why many has failed to take a good street photo. it's not about
    snapping away...it's about seeing and waiting for that decisive moment. like ray said,
    people who call it snapshots are probably people who can't take a decent street
    photograph if their life depended on it.

    "some people see street photography as an outlet for people who can't shoot art,"
    sorry, but that is about the biggest bull i have ever heard. i see it the other way
    around. i see it as a bigger challenge to create something wonderful where you have
    no control over things than to sit and create one out of a controlled environment.

    anyway, in my opinion, i see street photography as work of art created by people who
    has the vision like irving penn, richard avedon, dan winters, and bruce davidson. i
    see urban snapshots as the stuff i find on photonet. no offense, although there are
    some good ones on photonet there are lots of bad ones that heavily overweighs the
  6. Spot on Eric, too bad I was on vacation that day, maybe the best PN thread I've seen or at least one of them. And it speaks thousands and thousands of words re this topic. Just do it!
  7. Silver Gelatin or B&W print?
  8. Agree with Danny that there is a lot of junk on PN called street shooting, (some of mine included), but there is also some of the best street photogrphy I've seen anywhere by some of the people showing here. I include Grant, Edmo, Brad, Balaji, Eric, Ray, Maria, Beau and others (forgive me if I didn't mention you, but you know who you are). And of course with the amount of images there's always some uneveness, but there are many intersting and fresh images here.
  9. How do you distinguish "Street Photography" from "Urban Snapshots" in yours and others work?
    I don't. I don't view "snapshot" as a neccessarily negative description.
    What makes a good street photographer stand out from a "pedestrian" photographer?
    The quality of his or her photos!
    We talked about what you look for, but what do you avoid?
    I don't go out looking for shots that meet a list of requirements or disqualifications. I shoot what strikes me as interesting-looking, then sort the successes from the failures in the edit.
    I suppose, in a sense, I've provided a list of "non-answers," but from my perspective, the questions don't make much sense.
  10. Here's my attempt at an answer:

    Street photography is the act of taking photographs in the street or, more generally, any public place where people congregate with no explicit expectation of being photographed.

    Snapshots are photographs (or, originally, gunshots) taken without careful aim.

    Some street photographs are snapshots, while others are painstakingly composed. Some snapshots are street photographs, but most are probably taken at private photo ops, such as birthday parties.

    Well-composed street photographs, whether they are snapshots or careful compositions, are often called decisive moments.

    An example:

    If you snap a picture of an interesting looking person, and then notice on the contact sheet (or LCD display) that the person has a telephone pole growing out of his head, you have a mere snapshot...unless the person is talking on a cell phone, and then you might have a decisive moment.

    On the other hand, if you lie in wait for someone with a cell phone to pass in front of that same telephone pole, the result may be a decisive moment but, by definition, it is most certainly not a snapshot.

    And if, after lying in wait, you press the shutter at the wrong moment, the result is neither a decisive moment nor a snapshot, and you shold probably think about finding a new hobby. Perhaps we need a new word for such an image: "crapshot"?

    I consider myself lucky if I get one or two decisive moments on a contact sheet of carefully composed street photographs. If I get even one decisive moment per contact sheet of snapshots, I am ecstatic.

    Back in the days when every enlargement entailed real darkroom work, photographers were less likely to show their "mere" snapshots, since they weren't worth the effort of printing. With 4x6 prints cheap and ready in an hour -- and screen display virtually costless and instantaneous -- I think we all end up looking at a lot of junk. I know I do, most of it my own.
  11. When I look at "Urban snapshots" it makes me think of the struggle, the day to day grind that living in that environment can be like. An image comes to my head of an old woman, sticking her head out the window to her apartment, elbows on the sill. Smoking. Watching the disheveled youngsters playing in the dirt lot next to where she lives. Or a night shot outside of adult film theater, broken up marque. A silohette of a man in a trench coat slithering by. I feel they are more effective at night and in overcast settings. I'm a fan of the silver-gelatin it adds another strange and compeling element to the picture. If done well, to me they're extreamly moving is the point trying to make.
  12. You more or less answered your own question, Melissa, when you mentioned Thomas Kincade and said that "Everyone has their own tastes". It's the idea that there is 'good' or 'bad' in art that annoys me. I like some of Aubrey Beardsley's prints. That doesn't make them 'good'. I dislike the Mona Lisa. That doesn't make it 'bad'. Unfortunately, there are some people with a vested interest in playing status games with art (and those of them on this forum know who they are) who pretend that they are arbiters of taste and anyone who disagrees with them is, ipso facto, wrong. So to answer your question: "Street Photography" EQUALS "Urban Snapshots", so you cannot distinguish the two. Nor does a 'good street photographer' stand out from a 'pedestrian photographer' because while you may like a picture made by the former, I may prefer a picture made by the latter, or vice versa. What we should all do is think for ourselves and not allow the photo.net mafia (aka the Street and Documentary Forum mutual admiration society) to think for us.
  13. jrl


    Mostly I get 38 shots on a film of which 20 will be street ones. Of those probably about three will be any good.
  14. Melissa, I think you're trying to figure out how to make photographs on the street and the thing is you're not really going to find the answer
    for it in a little discussion here. Like any sophisticated artistic endeavor, you have to study it and do it for a long time to develop it. You have
    to have an idea first why it is you want to do it. To me, this means you have to have seen something that perks your interest and decide you
    want to explore things for yourself in that general direction. If you just go about it academically like a kid being forced into music lessons
    when he doesn't have an inkling of anything musical that's captured his imagination, you probably won't get very far.

    I've been photographing in public places off and on for 25 years and I've never seen the term "urban snapshots" until this thread. I don't think what you name these things has much to do with your progress in making pictures.
  15. >>>>>It's the idea that there is 'good' or 'bad' in art that annoys
    me. I like some of Aubrey Beardsley's prints. That doesn't make
    them 'good'. I dislike the Mona Lisa. That doesn't make it 'bad'.
    Unfortunately, there are some people with a vested interest in
    playing status games with art<<<<<

    Personal taste is one thing (aesthetics) but there are other
    elementals to consider within any art form that goes beyond pure
    aesthetics. It's much easier to just say "I like it" or " I don't like it"
    rather than to dissect, critique and decontruct a particular photo,
    (moving) picture, painting or what have you. Most may not care
    enough to spend the time to dig deeper but that doesn't mean it
    is just some "status game."

    For example: Cinema (or movies as most refer them)

    Most people judge them by how they like the story, the
    appearance or the actor/actress, the coolness of the special
    effects or perhaps how believable the plot is but most don't think
    about the editng, the camera placement, the lens selection, the
    lighting or film stock that most photographer would noticed.
    Now having said that, would you be insulted if an average movie
    watcher tell you that you are too arty or playing "some status
    game" simply because you noticed things they didn't?

    The reality is most people either don't know (aren't exposed) or
    don't care for the arts and that's ok (though sad) but don't put
    down people for wanting to look deeper than the surface of
  16. My point is that whether a photograph rises to a certain level or fails is purely up to the
    photograph itslef and secondarily to the photographer. <P>What i mean by this is a
    reflection of what a very prominent and talented art director told me once; "Everyone with
    a camera is going to make one great photograph someday. The difference between that
    person and someone with talent is that the person who has talent and who works hard is
    going to consistently make godd and sometimes great photographs." <P>

    The photo that Tom Meyer posted in that thread (the green way with windows like eyes.
    and the man walking down the sidewalk.) is an excellent example of color "street
    photography". From here it looks like Tom found a location with potential and he waited
    for the right person in the right color clothes to walk by, making turnign that potential
    into a photograph. We don't know how many frames Tom shot or how often he returned,
    maybe it was the first time in the spot and that was his first frame , maybe it was his
    100th visit and the last frame on the 10th roll of the day, and maybe he shot more
  17. llis is quite right to say it is 'candid' shooting, others are equally right to say it is 'street shooting' it DOESN"T matter ...people can argue all they like about words - but as others have suggested - it isn't about words it is about shooting.
    Exactly my point.
  18. Ellis's point is actually a good one, but we're confusing the question with this value-laden discussion of snapshots and decisive moments.

    "Street photography" is a meaningful term in that it's a recognizable genre, but on the other hand it throws up largely meaningless, conventionalized barriers around itself. Photos taken in NYC are street photos; photos taken on the main street of Vermilion Bay, Ontario* (get a map and look somewhere north of the middle of nowhere) aren't, solely by virtue of being made in the wrong place -- even though they may use similar subjects, approaches, themes, etc.

    Street photography can be accused of being a thoroughly ossified genre that really hasn't moved forward in years and is saddled with silly conventions such as "street work must be done in black and white." (That statement is the start of a whole discussion in itself, of course.)

    The best work in any genre is usually that which stretches the conventions. For that reason, worrying about whether you're making "street photos" vs. "urban snapshots" is really a waste of time. Good work comes from worrying about doing good work rather than worrying about genres.

    * this comment makes the assumption that Vermilion Bay actually has a main street, something which is by no means assured....
  19. "don't put down people for wanting to look deeper than the surface of things." The issue is that there are people who put down others because they claim they can see deeper. I've no problem with people who wish to disect art, my problem is with people who think that they are the arbiters of art. My opinion is of no greater worth on this subject than that of anyone else but neither is anyone else's opinion of greater value than mine. Cue none-too-smart put down from one of the wankers that infest this site......
  20. Whoa Peter...slow down just a bit. Mr. Peterson has nothing to do with this thread. The only thing I have to say about him is that I'm sorry I "voiced" my opinon about him and Mr. Given in public. That was out of character for me.

    As for Ellis, I have great respect for him, his comments and his work. I believe he already knows that. I apologize to him and others if anyone thought I was picking on him. I just thought he brought up an interesting point--one that I've heard off Photo.net as well as on it.

    I'm an amateur hobbiest photographer with, admittedly, very little natural talent. I work several times a week with extremely talented professional photographers who, for the most part, see photography strictly from a journalistic standpoint.

    My post wasn't meant to gather info for a "Street Photography Cookbook" and it wasn't meant to start a pro street/against street photography war. I simply thought it would make for interesting discussion among people who have a similar vision--those who are or aspire to be street photographers. If the conversation dispells a few myths about the SP, causes others to think more about their subjects, lighting, composition or audience (whether it be themself or others) then that's just icing on the cake.
  21. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    The reason we have categories isn't to pigeonhole things, but to make it easier to either find and describe something. Imagine if all books were just books, which they are, and when you went to the libary or bookstore, the only category would be just books and you could spend days looking for something you wanted or needed. So maybe you subdivide books into fiction and nonfiction. These are pretty vague too - would you really want to go to the library looking for a history book and having to wade through books about everything but history on the way to the history books?

    Of course not. So categories are used. Many things don't fit conveniently into a simple definition (an ancient history book might have considerable archaeology content) but still get categorized in some way so that someone can find it or figure out what it is.

    In the same way, categories are applied in photography. If there is "no such thing as street photography" and it's just candid photography, then street photography and candid wedding shots and many event shots and party shots and ... are all in that "candid" category. So when I want to find a "street photograph," instead of looking at things that might be appropriate, I have to wade through someone's wedding snaps before I get to something I'm looking for.

    Regarding the original question, it depends on how you define "snapshots." Here, it often gets used as a derogatory label for something that seems ill-composed, badly lit, etc. In the dictionary, it's often defined as something taken quickly with a small camera.

    Some photographers have no problem with the word - Ellen von Unwerth did a book of somewhat noir shots of models and musicians titled "Snaps," even though some of them seemed fairly well-planned. I think Erwitt has a book with the same title. What's clear is that some people don't think "snapshot" is a negative value judgement. In the end, maybe "urban snapshots" and "street photography" are the same thing, but it doesn't really matter. Saying either will probably point people at similar photographs.
  22. I don't know Melissa. I find anything done in the streets to be SP. Anything with a macro lens close up, macro. ANything with plants only, nature. ANything with faces only, portraits.
    Urban snapshots sounds like no people to me...and SP does...but then is it important?
    WHat makes a good SPpher stands out? How do you define good?
    I'd avoid not shooting.
  23. WHat makes a good SPpher stands out?
    probably by not standing out (when shooting).
    How do you define good?
    Good question. my quick & thoughtless answer: Do you find the photographs that they make consistently compelling in ways that have nothing to do with the subject ?
  24. Hmm, I'd have thought that more often than not the point was to reveal the subject.
  25. What I meant directly by "subject" was the oddity, exoticness, weirdness or celebrity of the
    person, place or thing.

    But I suppose you might also ask what really is the subject of a given photograph?

    Sometimes this can just be light, or as in the case of Tom's picture that Melissa refers to:
    maybe it is the way the color works, or maybe it is a human expression or gesture, or
    maybe it the way the elements in the photographed juxtapose themselves against each
    other in the composition and framing, or maybe (best case scenario) it is the combination
    of all of those factors and more, in which case maybe the real subject is arguably the
    uniqueness of photography as a medium of seeing. Which, I think, is the case with Tom's
    photograph and certainly is the case with photographers like Elliot Erwitt, Jay Maisel and
    the late Henri Cartier-Bresson.
  26. "The reason we have categories isn't to pigeonhole things, but to make it easier to either find and describe something."

    This is true, Jeff. My point is that genre is for the audience (and for critics) rather than for photographers. Nobody out there working should be thinking about what street photography is; they should be thinking about what interests them. I think that answers (for me, anyway) Melissa's questions.

    To put it another way, I doubt HCB or Winogrand ever worried much about what makes a good "street photo." I think they were more concerned about making the kinds of photos that interested them.
  27. Does this count as street photography? It wasn't staged but it was waited for.
  28. awful lotta talk for something as simple as pushing a button
  29. Street Photography is something you do - not intellectualize about. I've shot with around
    6 people from pn. Have yet to have any discussions on what SP is, the patriot act,
    photographers' rights, what HCB or GW thought or did, whether a photo is SP or not,
    pending laws, and on and on.

    You go to an urban area with camera and walk around for a few hours.
  30. rowlett

    rowlett Moderator

    I'm with Brad completely. It's not what you call it. It just is.
  31. Darn it Brad, you've just about wiped out the reasons for having this forum in one sentence. :(
  32. Is there a new line of woman's cosmetics called 'Ellis Vener 2004' I didn't know about? Attractive packaging.
  33. Hey, it worked for Karl Lagerfeld.
  34. im coming out with some glitter lip gloss in the shade of the red dot leica logo, if anyones interested....
  35. But will that lip gloss come in a manly red? Not many women on the leica forum...
  36. Ellis raised a good point with his "urban snapshot" swipe. What he's nailed is the lack of context that defines the "snapshot." Street photography at its best unifies "text"(the image) with its "context"(the photo's social/historical setting). This "artifact/milieu" dynamic is what makes street photography interesting and fun when it works. It's also a balance that's seldom the product of chance.
  37. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I've always thought snapshots were full of context. People's vacations, family gatherings, trips to the beach, friends at work. I see "snapshot" as a positive connation. Some photographers have made a lifetime out of them, like Araki.
  38. The original title of "The Decisive Moment" (Images a la sauvette) is perhaps best translated as "Snapshots."

    It's normally translated as "Images on the run" but "a la sauvette" means done hastily. "Images made hastily" translates best as "snapshots," I think.
  39. Elliott Erwitt: 'Snaps'.
  40. Actually, the declension of the phrase is.... I am an artist, you are a street photographer, he, she or it takes snapshots.
  41. Urban Photography,Urban Snapshots. Same thing the otherone just sounds more "Arty and formal" Also too many "SP" continually try to emulate the past VS just taking the pictures when the gutfeeling tells you this is the time to do it. Also I think there is an overload of mediocre Urban Photography and way too much cropping going on, The general public loses interest.
    "Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." (Fight Club)
    "The King" has left the room

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