When asked to write about Street Photography, it made me consider what I actually thought Street Photography was and what it has become, concluding that for me it is very different now to what it once was.
I am a great admirer of some of the mid 20th century photographers, like Grace Robertson,an intrepid documentary photographer of the 1950’s .
Commissioned by Picture Post to photograph a sheep farm in Wales she made a picture story that she would describe as photojournalism. Believing herself to be a working photojournalist yet familiar with all the discussion around what sort of photographer you could pertain to, be it reportage, documentary or photojournalism .
Grace was just as happy on the streets of London, at ease with the women of Battersea on a pub outing as scaling Welsh hillsides (wearing the customary clothes for a woman of the era, a tight fitting skirt suit with heels ).
Many of us have had an epiphany when discovering the work of a photographer whose photographs really meant something powerful to them. The most often quoted street photographers are Henri Cartier Bresson, but also the work of Berenice Abbott, Elliot Erwitt, Eve Arnold, Inge Morath, Lee Friedlander or Gary Winogrand …. each have made work that reached into psyche or touched the souls of viewers.
I decided I would talk with two photographers I was due to see the next day, to ask their opinion and predictions on contemporary Street Photography.
Jordi Ruiz Carrera, a Spanish photographer who until recently has concentrated his camera on South America spending many years photographing the devastating effects of the pesticides and global impact of soya farming. More recently he has made harrowing yet respectful portraits of the plight of the refugees trying to cross the border from Mexico into the USA. Jordi is a committed and intelligent photographer who is using his own instincts, and photography to speak in a non-verbal way, to describe, present and disseminate as far and wide as possible, what he finds. He researches carefully and has understanding of the political implications of his work. He is published internationally
Jaako Heikkilä is a Finnish photographer, from the very northern part of Finland, bordering Sweden. He has a deep interest in other cultures, has won many awards, and has concentrated on photographing people. These portraits range from Armenia to Serbia, from the Cubans, to wealthy Venetians and into the heart of Harlem. Almost by accident he has sought out those who are either marginalized or in the minority.
So from two very different backgrounds, I was intrigued as to what these two photographers would respond to the question of “what is street photography?”
I was really surprised that both of these photographers, whose lives are from such different climates and cultures, both have global perspective, thought that street photography was, quite literally in the street!
Jordi was adamant that street photography had to be taken on the street. His take on the term was simple, you are on the street, you frame, you compose and you take the image which reflects the political, or economic or social view that reflects his philosophy and captures the moment He gave me this picture of his, as featured in Le Monde newspaper,
Copyright ⓒ Jordi Ruiz Carrera
A group of people, mainly from Central America, cover from the morning sun as they queue at the Mexican Immigration Office in Tapachula, Mexico.
Jaako gave me this picture and text;
Copyright ⓒ Jaako Heikkilä
Since 2006 the street photography has been like this for me. The wall of the background is part of the image…and people passing it. In Havana I have photographed the structure, drawings/paintings of the wall. Combining them together…it’s my street.
Copyright ⓒ Anthony Luvera
Anthony Luvera has been working in the streets of most major UK cities. By meeting people who have experienced homelessness and working with them, sometimes in community kitchens and sometimes in workshops, he has invited and collaborated with these people to explore photography. Rather than photographing them, he has lent them cameras so they photograph themselves. He asked these people to make self-portraits, assisting them, teaching them in using medium format cameras, use a tripod, how to operate lighting, and flash. He has made an enormous body of work for many many people, exhibiting their work, printing newsletters, making books, but most importantly giving the camera to those who are on the street. So this is street photography of a different kind.
Anthony Luvera has changed the shape of how photography can work on the street, and many more artists and photographers will be making photography that will change our perceptions, make us think, appreciate and educate as to exactly how we define this term.