What Has Happened to Street Photography?

I was thinking about influencers and how that’s a word that never used to exist. In a world with social media, the goal of attracting large numbers of followers and becoming popular to become “Insta-famous,” what have we done to art?

Wasn’t there always influence from major players like John Szarkowski at MoMA, and plenty of photographers trying to shoot in the same style as his darlings–Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus? Maybe that influence continues among some photographers.

Now we’re in new times and the web is the new playing field for creatives to show their work. What work are they showing?

What work isn’t being made because we’re on a search for the next “hit”? That one photo was popular, I’ll do more of that. Scratch that vision thing. And that one no one likes, no need to shoot it.

What happened to street photography? It used to be documentary, storytelling, sometimes clever or funny.

Now, it seems like it’s outlandish. Is that the way of the world now, everything has to be overdone?

Here are some screen grabs from the folks over at Hardcore Street Photography on Flickr. They don’t seem like the kinds of people and scenes I encounter, and not the lighting I find them in. Is it all post-processing?

So, how many new photographers are seeing these and hitting the street with the intent to create something similar? After all, these are the chosen, the ones that made it to the pool.

It seems obvious to me that if these are the ones that make it to the dance, the big show, more photographers will make more of the same “out there” photographs. That’s what sells. That’s how they can become popular, too. Why wouldn’t I crush the blacks or oversaturate it or post the craziest pics I can find?

I would contest that this isn’t even street photography. This is a new type that hasn’t been classified, but it’s like street photography, only on steroids. It’s electrified street. It’s street for today, for the fast-paced, disposable, no-attention span world, and I find it repetitive, banal.

Exhausting to view.

What’s wrong with me? What aren’t I seeing? I would much rather look at Winogrand’s or Vivian Maier’s or Robert Frank’s work to get a glimpse into who we are or were, because to me, these don’t show it. These are like what happens when ad men get a hold of the genre and elevate it. Maybe that’s what I’ll call it. Elevated Street Photography. It’s street plus 50% more.

It’s like a meal with only meat. A movie with only action. One high sustained note. No nuance. A good story has rises and falls. Sometimes you need a little romance to make the sex good. All sex all the time, even that starts to get tiresome.

Some even feel set up. They really are bold and colorful and dynamic and wow, and HO HUM!

I want to see us how we are with a little bit of photographic style, but this to me is street photography after America and Madison Avenue got a hold of it and made into something I no longer recognize.

Is there no room for street photographs that aren’t pushed this far, to this level of extreme?

It feels garish. Maybe that’s it. Elevated Garish Street Photography. A local pub raised their menu prices after renaming their Mac n Cheese to “Elevated Mac n Cheese”.

This current trend, this genre, isn’t without merit. It’s totally valid for what it is. All I’m noting is there is not a documentary photograph among them. Maybe that’s why they have their group name, and that’s what it is–Hardcore Street Photography.

I would like to see a street life photography group that isn’t hardcore, that delves into the documentary realm, that captures life with a bit of poetry, with style, with good photography, but isn’t so much about the crazy odd. I, for one, would be much more interested in that.

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I am a documentary street life photographer. You can see my work at ColoradoFaces.com. But you’ll never see my work in the hardcore pool.

I wonder what Szarkowski would say about the current crop of photographers.

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