Here’s my not at all definitive list of Street Photographers we really shouldn’t forget. In no order of greatness or personal preference. You might argue that one or two of these are not ‘street photographers’ at all but you name me one which has not at one time or another pounded the streets camera in hand ?
1. Henri Cartier-Bresson – I get the feeling Cartier-Bresson is not as popular as he once was. Side-lined now in favour of the post modernist photographers by the theoretical thinkers who’ve argued over what is exactly “the Decisive Moment” ? Well what exactly is it and who decides what it is anyway ? Nevertheless Cartier-Bresson’s influence on photography is momentous even though he himself preferred to talk about his drawings and painting than his photos. Maybe he was a frustrated pencil and paintbrush artist? I think a lot of photographers are but hey, stick to what you’re good at. Oh yes Cartier-Bresson gave us “the decisive moment” and for thousands of photographers that starting point in knowing what to look for was erm ‘decisive’.
2. Weegee aka Arthur Fellig – One of my all time favourites. You don’t call yourself Weegee after the Oiuja Board without knowing that there’s something slightly surreal and well ya know ‘other worldly odd we just can’t get our heads around this subject’, about photography as well as having a supreme confidence about your ability to be there ! Here’s a man who had his radio tuned into the NYPD so he could arrive at crime scenes and accidents etc. before they did and what he captured was simply phenomenal. Not only that, the boot of his car was a mobile darkroom to allow him to develop his negs and have them on the Editors desk for the next days newspaper print run. Cool ! as the young folk say.
3. Diane Arbus – I’m aware that this list is mainly of men but Diane Arbus is arguably ( and I say arguably deliberately ) the greatest photographer of them all. Her subject matter continues to be contentious. As one intellectual said, ‘her work allows us to gaze in a way we wouldn’t do normally’. She’s a bit of a ‘marmite’ photographer, you either love her or you hate her but whatever you think no serious photographer can or should ignore her work without study or consideration. A fascinating woman and photographer you just shouldn’t ignore.
4. W Eugene Smith – Manic, difficult and uncompromising W Eugene Smith gave us possibly the greatest image ever. This man suffered for his calling, but what humanity he gave us ? Some of his images were contrived and by that I mean carefully composed. Nevertheless he’s a ‘street’ photographer we shouldn’t forget. Make an effort also to check out his Pittsburgh and Jazz Loft Project work.
5. Robert Frank – What was photography like before Robert Frank ? I’ve got a book called ‘Photography After Frank’ which is a selection of articles essentially discussing post Frank photography. Yes there was Walker Evans ( who no doubt influenced Frank) and almost certainly others including Eastern European, Russian and Japanese photographers who I’m not aware of, and yes my list is Euro American centric but ? Frank is considered to be one of the most influential photographers of our time. If only because he gave us the confidence to not worry if our verticals were not vertical and our horizontals were not horizontal and even if our shots were not in focus. Why ? because the subject matter is more important than the formal compositional rules laid down by God only knows. Content over Form. Actually sometimes it’s a toss up between Frank and William Klein and Klein’s book ‘Life is Good and Good For You in New York’ but at the moment I’m going with Frank.
6. Elliott Erwitt – What was it Erwitt once said about photography ? Something like “It’s time we started taking this photography seriously and treat it like a hobby”. If you can’t laugh you can’t live ! It aint easy to inject humour into your work but this man makes it look effortless. Humorous and wry. His tribute to our canine companions is a must viewing.
7. Brassai – Take Paris one of the most beautiful cities in the world, explore it by night and what have you got ? Brassai of course. Sometimes you’ve just got to put the miles and the time in. How many of us go out at night looking for images these days ?
8. Walker Evans – Influenced Robert Frank ! Enough said but check out his New York Subway images. Here’s a lesson for all of us. Get an idea of s project to pursue photographically and chances are it’s been done before. 9. Robert Doisneau – Another early pioneer of street photography. What is it about Paris and New York that has this tradition of street photography ? Don’t let’s forget Doisneau.
10. Gary Winogrand – The street photographers street photographer ! I read a disingenuous article once that described Winogrand as being like the monkey with the typewriter theory. Ever since I took up photography he’s had this fascination for me. All those films that he didn’t develop ? All those contact sheets that he didn’t edit ? A photographer I would really have loved to hang out with, spend some time with and chew the fat over with. For a man who didn’t like to talk about his photographs he came out with some of the most succinct statements on the subject and one of my favourite street retorts, “It’s not your photograph it’s mine !”
Is this photograph racist ? No of course it’s not ! Don’t be bloody ridiculous. It’s only racist if you’re racist in the first place ! It’s actually the opposite, for it reminds us of what we descend from.
So there you have it ! My list of ten ‘street’ photographers we really shouldn’t forget. There are many more and maybe soon I’ll do another one.
Keep on doing it my friends.