I Love Street Photography, I Hate Street Photography Now

I do. I love street photography. I make street photographs and portraits all the time.

But I hate street photography now, or at least what it’s become. It feels like it’s stuck at the moment. Seriously, street photography today, what I see online, wears me out. It’s tiring.

If I see one more figure in silhouette walking in a shaft of light, or another juxtaposition with a mural and a person in a clever position in front of it, I’m going to scream. Street photography all looks alike now. It’s not clever, it’s redundant. It’s imitative. It’s unoriginal. It’s like we’ve embraced the cliche, defined the look and everyone is repeating it over and over ad nauseam.

It’s like every singer in the 1950s doing a version of bubble gum doo-wop and Bob Dylan coming along and showing us what music can be. We need the Bob Dylans of the street photography world.

Let it go. Create an original vision. Not just the same light and shadow play we’ve seen way too many times.

Garry Winogrand, Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt and Fred Herzon each had a thousand different images. Unique views of the world. Not the same cliche predictable photos I keep seeing today.

Dare to shoot on the bus. This isn’t a shaft of light photo with an anonymous figure walking mid-stride, this is real character in a photograph.

Vivian Maier | Vivian maier, Vivian mayer, Street photographers
Vivian Maier’s Bus Photo
Garry Winogrand's Women are beautiful – 50 years later – Public Delivery
Garry Winogrand shooting the ordinary, when luggage meant lugging, not the light play or the strange.

Seriously, can we give it a rest with the boring photos of people standing on a corner holding their phones doing nothing? And the garish flash shots of people looking unattractive crossing the street if you’re not Bruce Gilden? (He’s got that style cornered, sorry!)

Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott and Robert Frank documented life and people and places in the street. Not the photos I see people posting now. Turn to them for inspiration, feel free to copy their styles, they were documenting real life, real moments.

SFMOMA
Walker Evans’ photo isn’t sensational, it’s documentary.

Can we just go out and document life on the street, those special moments and slices of life without the ridiculous person falling into a bush sensational over-the-top photos? Can I see something that actually doesn’t look like everything I’ve seen a million times? It’s honestly feels like street photographers found a groove 20 or so years ago and got stuck in it. The photos of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s didn’t adhere to any set look.

Everything now is Martin Parr-like garish saturated color the same. Or Alex Webb multi-layered photos with heads cut off. You know what I mean, you’ve seen them.

It’s time to get unstuck and create a new vision of what street photography can be.

Sure, we can be humorous. This photo is humorous.

A real moment of a kid cooling off in my town that I saw and photographed during a walk.

But not every street photo has to be so outlandish. This one has a character in a scene in a Colorado town that just reflects what a cowboy looks like in 2020.

Urban cowboy, perhaps? Not a sensational photo, but a documentary photograph.
It can be a simple person in the sunlight on Hollywood Blvd. to show us what youngsters looked like in 2020.
It can be an ordinary basketball game between a dad and his son outside their home.

I just want to be able to see something real. It’s like street photographers are posting the kind of work they are expected to shoot, something funny, something strange. What’s being edited out because it doesn’t have that look? That isn’t the shot that we expected to see? Where are those photos, those are the ones I miss seeing. Those are the ones that show us who we are.

I look at photos on street photography forums and I’m bored. Aren’t you? Really tired and exhausted. Nothing feels inspired. It all feels like more of the same. It’s because we’ve seen it all before and there’s a plethora of ways and places to see it, and the mediocrity and repetitiveness is overwhelming.

The photographs that are being made and posted strive to look like what the photographers have seen before and assume that’s what street photography is. It’s time we redefine street photography:

Street photography isn’t anything, it doesn’t have a look, it’s documentary of life on the street. Period.

Can I please see some genuine photographs that don’t try so hard to wow me, to make me laugh, that don’t have overprocessed looks, lightroom presets, crushed blacks and HDR treatments, that just show me what life in public looks like in today? Can I just see something real in your street photographs?

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