Has The Dust Settled?
Michael Ernest Sweet
If you’re not sure what I am talking about, I’m referring to the dust storm of activity that has characterized the street photography world over the past few years. I dare say it has been “the” most popular segment in photography. On certain days it really does seem like not only everyone, but everyone and their dog, is out shooting street. I’ve written elsewhere about the inherent value, or lack thereof, in this pursuit – so let’s avoid that discussion here. Rather than question why, or whether there is any sense in all this photography generation, I want to discuss how the genre is maturing and, perhaps, cooling off, way off.
Copyright ⓒ Michael Ernest Sweet
One thing you will probably notice with little effort, supposing you’ve been around street photography for some time, is that many early personalities have fallen off or even disappeared altogether. Yours truly is one such figure. I remain rooted in photography writing, but have not wielded a camera, in any serious way, for well over two years. I’m not alone. Yanidel, a prominent name in earlier times, has all but faded away. His website, while still technically there, sports a bunch of broken code and links as the backdrop. Christophe Debon, a master street photographer from the early craze, now finds more pleasure, and likely more money, in managing sales for Blancpain – a storied Swiss watchmaker. We might also turn to more controversial figures like Alex Coghe or that Kim what’s-his-name, to collect more evidence about the current state of the “scene”. A few years ago Alex was all over the place. Now, not so much. Indeed, he has restyled himself a “photojournalist” and has shied away from the term “street photographer”. He is not alone. One after another former street photographers are not restyling themselves as photojournalists, documentary photographers (another title Alex totes), portrait photographers, and even landscape photographers (a term that no one would have touched with a pole just a few short years ago). Indeed, as one of my friends and colleagues in the street community recently said, “Anything but a street photographer works for me”. As for Kim, well he’s doing what he’s always been doing – beguiling the young and innocent, selling air to “first-time camera owners”.
Copyright ⓒ Michael Ernest Sweet
So, why all this hustle to get disassociated with the genre? Well, frankly put, because everyone is tired of it. We have all seen enough bad street photography (i.e. photos of nobody doing nothing made by nobody’s grandson). Art galleries and top-notch publications screen their mail for street photography like Washington does for anthrax. Finally, someone has finally pointed out that the Emperor is indeed naked, very, very naked. So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us looking for the next thing – the next big fad in photography, something that can actually interest someone and inspire commercial activity. Right now the only people making any money in street photography are the camera manufacturers and the hustlers selling “workshops” – think 80s pyramid schemes and you’re pretty much there. This does not mean that street photography est mort. No, street photography has existed as long as the camera and it will continue to do so. But when much of the dust has settled there will be far fewer “street photographers” and a lot less street photography.
What will be the next big thing? Who knows. If I could predict things I would direct my energy toward the equity markets, not photography. But, if I had to guess, I’d place my chips on conceptual photography – work that is largely produced on a computer and that aims to captivate by way of artistic creation rather than photographic reproduction. Put another way, photographs will be the stuff with which artists will create. So, should anyone need a stray elbow or an old woman’s behind, be sure to get in touch with me. I have lots of material.