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An example of street photography - a candid photograph of a couple strolling through Kensington Market in Toronto, Ontario.
Henri Cartier-Bresson's first Leica camera

Street photography is a type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places such as streets, parks, beaches, malls, political conventions and other settings.

Street photography uses the techniques of straight photography in that it shows a pure vision of something, like holding up a mirror to society. Street photography often tends to be ironic and can be distanced from its subject matter, and often concentrates on a single human moment, caught at a decisive or poignant moment. On the other hand, much street photography takes the opposite approach and provides a very literal and extremely personal rendering of the subject matter, giving the audience a more visceral experience of walks of life they might only be passingly familiar with. In the 20th century, street photographers have provided an exemplary and detailed record of street culture in Europe and North America, and elsewhere to a somewhat lesser extent.

Many classic works of street photography were created in the period between roughly 1890 and 1975 and coincided with the introduction of portable cameras, especially small 35mm, rangefinder cameras, most famously the Leica, as used by Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others.

Street Photography vs. Documentary Photography[edit]

Street photography and Documentary Photography are two very similar genres of photography that often overlap while having distinct individual qualities. Street photography has the ability to document while Documentary has the definite intention of recording history. Documentary photography can be candid, but Street Photography is defined by its candidness. Street photography produces ironic amusement while Documentary provides emotional intensity. The language of street photography is subtle and not as loud and outspoken as documentary photography often is. [1] In the 19th century, the peak of Street Photography, most photographers were naïve to the fact that they were “documenting” history. As street photographers they had no definite intentions or goals beyond the production of a candid print. Documentary style is defined by it's premeditated message and intention of documenting particular events in history. The Documentary approach includes aspects of journalism, art, education, sociology and history. In Documentary’s social investigation, often the images are intended to pave way to social change. Documentary’s underlying motives complicate its ability to give a clear, impartial vision of the world. Street Photography is disinterested in its nature, allowing it to deliver a true depiction of the world. [2]Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying “unmanipulated” scenes, with usually unaware subjects. [3]

Early History[edit]


Paris is widely accepted as the birthplace of Street Photography. The cosmopolitan city helped to define Street Photography as a genre and the photography helped to form the city as well. [4] Eugene Atget, is regarded as the Father of Street Photography, not because he was the first of his kind, but from his popularity as a Parisian photographer. As the city did, Atget helped to promote the city streets as a worthy subject for photography. He worked in the city of Paris from the 1890s to the 1920s. His subject matter consisted mainly of architecture; stairs, gardens, and windows. He did photograph some workers but it is clear people were not his main focus. John Thomson, a Scotsman, began photographing the street prior to Atget, and had more of a subject aware style in comparison to Atget. Though he does not receive the same amount of accreditation, Thomson was vital in the transition from photographing only high class, manufactured portraits to capturing everyday life on the streets. [5]

Henri Cartier-Bresson, who has a reputation comparable to Atget, was a 20th century photographer who’s style focused on the actions of people. He was responsible for the idea of taking a picture at the ideal moment. He was influenced by his interest in traditional art, as he desired to be a painter. This influence comes through in his skill of combining timing and technique. [6]

United States[edit]

Street photography’s beginnings in America can be linked to that of jazz in the music domain, both emerging as outspoken depictions of every day life. This connection is seen in the work of the New York School of Photography. This was not a formal institution, the New York School is a term referring to groups of photographers in the mid-20th century who were based in New York City. One of the most notable of these photographers, Robert Frank, was a part of the beat movement interested in Black-American and counter cultures. Frank is the most celebrated street photographer because of his popular book, The Americans. Raw and often out of focus, his images questioned the proper photography of the time, contradicting Ansel Adams landscapes. The mainstream photography community in America fiercely rejected Frank’s work, that later became a stepping-stone for fresh photographers looking to break away form the restrictions of the old style. [7]


Most kinds of portable camera are used for street photography, for example rangefinders, digital and 35mm SLRs, and point-and-shoot cameras[8]. A commonly used focusing technique is zone focusing — setting a fixed focal distance and shooting from that distance — as an alternative to autofocus, particularly using wide angle lenses with their increased depth of field. Zone focusing facilitates shooting "from the hip" i.e. without bringing the camera up to the eye.[9][10] Alternatively waist-level finders allow for composing the shot and/or adjusting focus without bringing attention to the photographer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott, Clive. Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. Landman Library: I.B.Tauris, 2007.
  2. ^ Wells, Liz. Photography: A Critical Introduction. Psychology Press, 2000.
  3. ^ Gleason, Timothy. “The Communicative Roles of Street and Social Landscape Photography.” Simile vol. 8, no. 4 (n.d.): 1–13.
  4. ^ Scott, Clive. Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. Landman Library: I.B.Tauris, 2007.
  5. ^ Westerbeck, Colin. Bystander: A History of Street Photography. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1994.
  6. ^ Gleason, Timothy. “The Communicative Roles of Street and Social Landscape Photography.” Simile vol. 8, no. 4 (n.d.): 1–13.
  7. ^ Westerbeck, Colin. Bystander: A History of Street Photography. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1994.
  8. ^ Rangefinder, Daniel Norman, September 2, 2012
  9. ^ Zone Focusing, Markus Hartel, January 22, 2006
  10. ^ Zone Focus,, March 2004

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Category:Photography by genre Category:Street culture