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What is the Point of Street Photography?

Updated: Sep 27, 2023


An experiment in layering

Recently I was contacted by Brandon Ballweg, street photographer and founder of www.composeclick.com, and asked if I would do an interview for a series he was doing on his website. I was happy to agree and found myself included among more well-known photographers.


I pointed out in the interview that I consider myself to be primarily an outdoor photographer, and I am interested in many types of outdoor photography rather than exclusively street photography. However, over the last year I have developed a great love for street photography and was delighted to share my thoughts about my new-found passion.


One of the questions which Brandon asked was, 'What is the point of street photography?' It is a question which set me thinking about the essence of street photography. Is street photography more than just snapping random people in the streets? Does it have a real purpose?


Below is the answer I gave.


Brandon Ballweg: What do you think the point of street photography is?


My answer: On one level street photography is an enjoyable genre of photography that allows us to go out with our camera and become part of the street theatre that is playing out before our eyes. We get to observe things that others may not even see, witness the humorous, the quirky, the weird happenings that are part of daily life on our streets, and capture these moments for others to see. Street photography brings joy and fulfilment to the photographer, and we have only to look at the work of any of the great street photographers to know that it also brings immense pleasure to the viewer of the images.


On another level, street photography is an important part of our social history. The photographs of great street photographers of the past have left us a uniquely valuable visual legacy documenting a way of life that is no more. I recently visited a photography exhibition in my home city of Dublin, Ireland. The exhibition was not based on the work of any one photographer but rather was a collection of photos from amateur photographers who had documented life on the streets of Dublin in the nineteen fifties and sixties. The exhibition gave a real flavour of life at the time and spanned a range of topics from children's street games to snapshots of the everyday lives of the local people and they presented a vivid picture of living conditions common in inner city Dublin at the time. These photographs are a real example of how photography provides a glimpse into our past.


Contemporary street photographers, particularly those whose images stand out in the crowded field of contemporary street photography, are now documenting places, cultures and people’s way of life for future generations.


Documenting an event

Street photographers also have an important role in documenting pivotal events of our generation, as witnessed by the ‘tough’ photography of Joel Meyerowitz resulting from being given exclusive access to Ground Zero. In the last few years too, images of people going about their daily routines wearing masks will forever be a reminder of the time of the worldwide COVID 19 pandemic.


I think the important role of street photography in our society shouldn’t be underestimated.


You can read the full text of my interview here

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