We are asked to
Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.
• What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly
black and white?
• Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s
• How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?
Before reading the introduction to this research in our notes I would have always thought of reportage as news story reporting.
I started by looking at the work of Joel Sternfeld. and came across his book entitled On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam (1). I struggled to find a purpose in it. The images are of sites where tragedies have occurred and are apparently untitled. So if the viewer is not familiar with the place or indeed the tragedy then the images have a beauty but no meaning. In reportage I think meaning matters so the text on the opposite page is, in my view, absolutely essential. It is a sort of indulgence project. He uses large format images and they are indeed starkly beautiful. They fit, in my opinion into the genre of “late photography”.
Helen Levitt is, in my opinion, the epitomy of a “street photographer”. Her images are full of life, interest and information. People within are unconcerned with the photographer they are going about their business, children are playing unselfconsciously also unaware or uncaring that they are being photographed. Children today are very conscious of being photographed. They tend to pose as they are being continuously photographed by their parents.The article on Levitt in Atget Photography.com (2) offers the following possible explanation for the lack of spontaneity of modern street images.
..children have forgotten how to pretend with style, and the women how to gossip and console, and the old how to oversee
Another possible explanation for the candid nature of her images is that she apparently used a ‘winkel sucher’ on her Leica which allowed her to point the camera in one direction while taking a photograph in another. An interesting fact about Levitt’s life, also learned from Atget Photography.com(2), was that she spent most of her life as a cinematographer. This site also contains links to a number of videos of Levitt’s work. Levitts work in the 30’s and 40’s, like the other work of this period, was in black and white.
Levitt seems to have moved seamlessly from black and white to colour. Her work lost none of its vigour The following two images I feel demonstrate this. I don’t think she was ever concerned with surrealism. Her images are captured moments as they happened or as she saw them.
Levitt was Joel Meyerowitz’s senior by twenty five years but I would think she was ahead of her time in adapting so easily to colour. Meyerowitz was an early advocate of colour and according to Wikipedia
he taught the first color course at the Cooper Union in New York City
Meyerowitz started his career as an art director and designer and it was following a meeting with Robert Frank that he realised that he wanted to become a photographer. He could not wait to go out and capture the sensual, aesthetic moments on the street which, after watching Frank at work, he could suddenly see all around him.(3)
For Meyerowitz it is all about relationships within the frame and indeed continuing outside into the 360 ° panorama. It is for this reason he uses a Leica which has the viewfinder to one side allowing him to use the uncovered eye to take in what is outside the camera’s frame. There is nothing surreal about most of Meyerowitz’s images as with Levitt they are a capture of what happened in front of him. Except perhaps his images of ground Zero.
I am not sure if irony about nationality was intended in his images but certainly in this image it could, for me, only be of an American even if the title of the book “The American Character” was not legible. On this subject of irony the late street photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, has a wonderful image which, for me, is full of irony:
The photographers we have been asked to research are all well know in the genre of Street Photography but I wanted to see other photographers so I asked Dr Google… I found the following interesting street photographers.
Zack Arias (4) who works mostly in colour but he did have one image in B&W on his street gallery. I studied it to see why he had made this particular image B&W. It’s a great image but why he chose to make it B&W I don’t know
Shots (5) works both in colour and B&W. It is more obvious in his work which images he published as colour and which in B&W. many of his colour images have really blue skies, others have graffiti or colours on the background. His B&W images are cleaner, simpler. Maybe that’s the key…
I found Anna Delaney’s work amazing. (6). It is all B&W, all close ups, mostly of black subjects. In the index “Places” there are sometimes people but they are part of an overall image not necessarily the main subject of the whole.
Richard Sandler’s work (7) is also impessive. I love it but I found his site frustrating to use. It is all B&W. The work is stark and gritty, often funny and containing social comment.
I had decided to look at the above photographers before I look up Martin Parrs work with which I was already fairly familiar. He works (I think) exclusively in colour. His colour is vivid and garish which accentuates the subjects. The images are often full of fun. His Benidorm images are an amusing look at, almost certainly, British tourists in Benidorm. The people in the images are very white and often very fat. These images may be fun but they are a pretty grim statement about his fellow countrymen. In general I do not particularly like Martin Parrs work.
Since I was looking at street photographer in colour I looked at the images of Matt Stuart (9) which I find more interesting than Parr. It is funny without resorting to the grotesque. Many of his images appear to be just happenstance but he was able to seize the moment and the resultant images are superb.
None of the above photographers images are in the style of Cartier Bresson. Most photographers, working today, have their own style and don’t feel the necessity to follow the C-B style. For me these photographers’ work is more interesting than Cartier-Bresson. He used a 50mm lens which is fairly unforgiving and restrictive but he managed to produce exceptional work. Modern cameras and lens help photographers to work at a distance while still producing sharp images. The scope of their work is wider.
I struggle with the decision of when to make an image in black and white and when to use colour. James Maher in an interview with Eric Kim (8) says the following:
If color doesn’t add anything to a scene, then I take it out
However he does admit that:
Color can enhance a humorous or playful situation.
Colors can enhance any mood if used correctly. Blues can help a photo feel more melancholy, reds more vibrant or angry, browns or muted colors more gritty or dreary.
- Sternfeld, J, 1997. On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam . 1st ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
- Helen Levitt / Biography & Images – Atget Photography.com / Videos Books & Quotes. 2015. Helen Levitt / Biography & Images – Atget Photography.com / Videos Books & Quotes. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Helen-Levitt.html. [Accessed 07 December 2015].
- Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time | Photography | Phaidon Store. 2015. Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time | Photography | Phaidon Store. [ONLINE] Available at: http://fr.phaidon.com/store/photography/joel-meyerowitz-taking-my-time-9780714865027/. [Accessed 07 December 2015].
- Photography By Zack Arias. 2015. Photography By Zack Arias. [ONLINE] Available at: http://beam.zackarias.com/#!/index/G0000d6rczdaBCK4. [Accessed 11 December 2015].
- Photography by Shots 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://9shots.co/blog
- Photography by Anna Delaney 2015. Photography by Anna Delaney. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.annadelany.com/ [Accessed 11 December 2015]
- Richard Sandler. 2015. Richard Sandler. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.richardsandler.com/. [Accessed 11 December 2015].
- Black and White or Color in Street Photography: How Do You Make the Decision?. 2015. Black and White or Color in Street Photography: How Do You Make the Decision?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/06/07/black-and-white-or-color-in-street-photography-how-do-you-make-the-decision/. [Accessed 11 December 2015].