What are people thinking at that moment they are photographed on the street? These humans of the everywhere? What are they thinking at that moment of the click?
Ordinary individuals moving silently through the drama of their lives when they are captured by the street photographer. Some, of course, will be oblivious to the fact that they have been shot, some might look perplexed, some stressed, and yet others surprised or, even, irritated by the intrusion.
Diane Arbus always lamented the fact she never had the chance to photograph Marilyn Monroe or Ernest Hemingway. Nevertheless, she believed she could read suicide on the faces of the actress and the author. “It was there. Suicide was there,” she said about their photographs.
Ironic, certainly tragic, that this photographer icon should end her own life at the age of 48. Could she see something in the mirror when she stared at her own face? Are her claims that photography and its photographs can be prophetic to be taken seriously?
How could we possibly work out what is in anyone’s mind at any time or at that moment of the Mash –Cartier-Bresson’s the decisive moment – even if we are Diane Arbus?
That instant when the street photographer and their subject come together – like heat seeking missiles – to be represented in one solitary frame of action. Street photographer and subject forever locked together in that single frame.
What purpose do people have in their lives at that very instant of connect?
It is, of course, always a cross purpose moment. As the world rushes endlessly in on the street photographer and time contracts to a split-second of decision making, they, in turn, intrude upon the existential trajectory of their subject(s), oblivious or otherwise.
What is on their mind?
Image credit: Fabio Costa
The woman, in Fabio Costa’s photograph, with flowers heading to her mother’s home on the latter’s birthday, interrupted by a smartphone call, as a man in khaki shorts – apparently with solar superpowers – sprays her with sunlight. A businessman, suited and booted and looking ‘professionally stressed’. He could be a lawyer, a teacher, an unemployed ad executive in denial?
A broken man, perhaps, still trudging into Tokyo City from Itabashi on the Mita Underground line. Meanwhile his British wife, unaware of her husband’s fragile state, lives her middle-class life, quickly hoovering the front living room to Stephen Tin Tin Duffy’s Icing On The Cake (the party on the street). It is her guilty secret – performed – before heading out for her Salsa class, then onto lunch with fellow ex-pats Jane and Susan (they didn’t bother to call Vicki).
Image Credit: Victor Borst
In visual language the hangdog features of the man in Victor Borst’s photograph says : ‘What am I going to do? She’ll divorce me if she finds out I am no longer working. If she discovers I am no longer a ‘salary man!” He somehow couldn’t see his wife with all her activities, her watercolour painting class, yoga sessions, mindfulness and Salsa friends, being happy about living hand to mouth in a less savoury area of the Japanese capital. Life is fragile.
No one, of course, knows what is in anyone’s head, least of all the street photographer but, at least, they are connected to the world around them, and by extension globally via social media and the internet. A world that is caught in candid action, as the street photographer records that never ending drama of the streets, of life, as it happens. Collecting evidence of what is happening out there in this ‘otherland’.
The rich, the poor, the dodgy geezers, the men and women on the edge of breakdown, they all march through the street photographer’s field of vision. Creating narratives of a world that is rushing in on the street photographer while they are trying to visually create great art.
That photograph of the ‘broken’ businessman, for example, leads to a narrative with an ‘unseen’ and ‘unknown’ wife and ex-pat friends – Jane, Susan but not Vicki (who is, for some reason, being excluded from the circle) – and an 1980’s pop tune, Icing On The Cake a top twenty hit for Stephen Tin Tin Duffy in 1985.
A ‘reality’ we can find beyond the visual representation of a micro-second. Great street photography is powerful and as dynamic as any photographic genre, arguably infinitely more so. The most exciting and dynamic art form on the planet? Definitely.
All the above because street photography, nor street photographers can ever be understood in complete isolation but only as an interconnected and integral part of a rapidly moving world rushing rapidly in on top of all of us. Street photography, at its best, can only be understood as an interconnected part of that increasingly non-stop reportage flowing at us everyday from the real and virtual world. I like to think there is something, perhaps, prophetic about it?