Part 1 Project 3 Research point
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.
David Campany talks about the work of Joel Meyerowitz in his essay Safety in Numbness; Campany says that Meyerowitz’s work is too safe and beautiful. In 2016 I spent time living in the area he photographed for his 9/11 series; I am struck by the way he has made the aftermath of 9/11 and the effect on the area picturesque. However, Thomas Ruff used images of 9/11 in his Jpegs series, and Campany also described Ruff’s images as beautiful.
I find the work of Martin Parr difficult. To me, he seems to be making fun of his subjects and I wonder how he interacts with them. His images stand out most to me, but perhaps that is because they are quite British in some way – I can identify with them; I live near a costal resort and they represent scenes I am used to witnessing.
In Street Photography Now, I find the work of Alexey Titarenko, City of Shadows, most pleasing; it has a beauty to it that I think captures a sense of place without the invasion of privacy or mockery that I often see in street photography: when people appear, they are blurred by long shutter speeds. To me, that seems to leave a sense of people in the place and their power effectively. No-one is being judged or mocked, but the people fill the space and take it up over time. In the image ‘CROWD TRYING TO ENTER VASSILEOSTROVSKAYA METRO STATION DURING THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION, 1992’ on the artist’s website, the power of that crowd can be seen most effectively.
- What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?
The course text mentions that street photography ‘started in an age when colour photography was deemed unrealistic because it carried connotations of advertising’. Perhaps it’s now the case that black and white photographs are seen as somehow more authentic, especially if they are quite grainy. For some, black and white, especially black and white film photography, might now be seen as part of a general nostalgic feeling that seems to encompass music (e.g. the rise in sales of vinyl records) and some fashions. In ‘The Mind’s Eye; Writings on Photography,’ Bresson, writing in 1952, says that black and white photography is an abstraction, and he sees that as it’s strength in street photography.
When looking photographers like Martin Parr, colour seems to convey more personality, more vibrancy, and appears more lighthearted than monochrome, which in it’s abstract nature can suggest a sense of detachment. Certainly, in the work of Parr it seems that colour is essential; I cannot imagine his images having the same impact in black and white.*
The seemingly lighthearted or everyday colour approach can reach a place in the subconscious which makes us question a scene that we’re used to observing because it allows us to identify with it. The photograph freezes the moment and we can gain a deeper sense of meaning from the everyday scene.
At the time Bresson was writing about colour vs black and white (1952), there were obvious technical issues with colour film and paper, but overall he seemed to be convinced that colour photography requires a different approach – he sees this ‘complex new element’ of colour interfering in the ‘life and movement which is often caught by black and white’. Now those original technical issues are no longer relevant. However, the final point that Bresson makes is still relevant; that we are ‘unable to control the interrelation of colours within the subject’. That can have a strong effect on the way we read the images.
So colour can be a distraction, but sometimes that visual clutter is the message a photographer is trying to convey. Colour also puts images more firmly into their decade. A photograph from the 1970s can clearly be seen to be from that decade, although manipulation of colours in the image can be made for a visually similar result, as in the work of photographer Robbie Augspurger.
- Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?
I don’t know a lot about surrealism, but my understanding is that the surrealists were finding ways of letting unconscious ideas through and so the work they produced was more about chance or coming from a place of unconsciousness that might have been seen as more authentic. Cartier Bresson, in the documentary ‘Just Plain Love,’ said that when he took the photograph of the man leaping over a puddle he could not see what was happening. So perhaps there is a surrealist idea about a decisive moment. About almost not being involved, letting a scene unfold in front of you and letting the subconscious do it’s work, knowing when the timing is right to press the shutter. Surrealism also seemed to use images out of their original context to produce a sense of unreality or a dream like quality.
Although Parr’s work looks at first glance quite ‘snapshotty’, it is more considered and planned than it seems. There’s a clear difference – it doesn’t seem like Parr has found a decisive moment. He’s found interesting people or seen a situation as ironic and the people in the images know he’s there – he uses flash to add a sense of unreality and the colours are highly saturated. So overall, perhaps there is a more planned approach to street photography now, an approach that knows the scene it is looking for and waits in stillness for it to appear, rather than an approach that, like Bresson did, keeps moving until it finds something which unfolds in front of it.
However, there are images of Martin parr where he’s standing in front of these ridiculous sets as a tourist. That seems a bit surreal. But surreal and surrealism are different.
*(For educational purposes, I have added a photograph by Parr in my paper learning log as the original colour version and a version printed in black and white. The impact is no-where near as good in the monochrome version. I’m not adding it here because I cannot work out the copyright issues involved but it is a woman lying on a blue towel with blue googles on, from
Photocrowd.com. (2019). How to Shoot Like Martin Parr. [online] Available at: https://www.photocrowd.com/blog/171-how-shoot-martin-parr/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].
PetaPixel. (2019). Retro-Inspired Portraits that Look Like Something Out of a 1980s Yearbook. [online] Available at: https://petapixel.com/2014/11/13/retro-inspired-portraits-look-like-something-1980s-yearbook/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].
Phillips, C. (2009). Londoners through a lens. London: Time Out Guides.
Williams, V., Bright, S., Jackson, K., Badger, G. and Parr, M. (2007). How we are. London: Tate Publishing.
Slinkachu. (2008). Little people in the city. London: Boxtree.
Howarth, S. and McLaren, S. (2010). Street photography now. London: Thames & Hudson.
Dyer, G. and Parr, M. (2011). Small world. Stockport: Dewi Lewis.
Cartier-Bresson, H. (1999). THE MIND’S EYE. NEW YORK, N.Y: APERTURE.
David Campany. (2019). Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ – David Campany. [online] Available at: https://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].
Metmuseum.org. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phsr/hd_phsr.htm [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].
Alexey Titarenko. (2019). City of Shadows (1991-1994) — Alexey Titarenko. [online] Available at: http://www.alexeytitarenko.com/cityofshadows/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].
ROBBIE AUGSPURGER. (2019). ROBBIE AUGSPURGER. [online] Available at: https://www.robbieaugspurger.com [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].