This article first appeared on The Phoblographer on December 20th 2017.
I’m not talking about the term itself or where the genre is heading compared to where it was 5 or 10 years ago. I don’t really care about what social media is doing to street photography because I have a very well curated social feed so I only look at quality work that inspires me and that I admire. This is a result of the amount of junk being published by the millions with the hashtag #streetphotography.
At some point in my journey as a photographer, I adopted street photography as a way to learn the technical aspects of operating a camera and reading light, to try to find a way to express my views about the world and to nurture my creativity. It worked! Everything I learned during my early stage as a “serious photographer” is thanks to street photography. But there is a big problem, I fell victim to the trend; I read books, followed blogs, attended workshops and joined Facebook groups-all focusing on what others do and say. Now, because of that, my photographic judgment is fucked!
Before you go on, you should know I do street photography for fun. For work, I’m a professional food photographer. I can’t remember the last time I went out on the streets and came back with a photo that meant something to me. All I keep looking for are triangles of light, people walking in front of graffiti and billboards, and people looking through bus windows or cafe windows. I’m not really interested in that but my brain has been programmed to look for shit like that, so it had to stop!
I didn’t really need to get rid of my beloved D90 to get an X100T, but I had the need to fit in with the genre. I had to become invisible, silent and with style because there’s nothing worse than putting a big chunky DSLR in front of a stranger’s face and take their photograph. Don’t take me wrong, the X100T is a great piece of metal housing the sensor and it’s definitely lighter than the D90, but it does exactly the same thing. The art and craft of photography, documentary, and storytelling I learned in my early stages got lost because of all the junk I absorbed. Now, it’s very difficult to get rid of the vice and find a healthy way of doing things.
Every other person with a camera talks, teaches, and blogs about street photography. That’s cool-everyone’s entitled to an opinion. I do it myself and I love reading everyone’s experiences alike, but there is no substance in most of the content. Going out on your day off, shooting thousands of photos, and sharing the lot while pressing how it was a nice sunny day and people were happy doesn’t really make the genre any good. Instead, I’d like to read how those same cliché photos help you overcome anxiety or make you get up and walk because you had a really messed up week. Think thrash metal-those guys are fucking mad at the world and the lyrics reflect that.
I paid lots of money for some dude with a REAL TALENT to show me how he does street photography and how he convinces everyone that we have a fear of shooting people. I believed his crap until the moment we hit the streets and saw that he does exactly the same that I was doing. Seriously! That’s the moment I realized street photographers are like a great marketing campaign. The only way to become better at something is by practicing and doing it over and over.
Would you pay your favorite pitcher millions to teach you how to throw a curve ball so you can become a pro like him? Think about that next time you’re about to pay serious money for someone to walk you in a public space to shoot strangers.
And continuing with the fear in street photography; that only means having a fear of talking to strangers. But the truth is that it is no different than attending a meeting with a new client or talking to someone at a bar. It’s simple… if you’re a nice, sensible person and have a minimum amount of common sense, you’re able to talk to anyone on the street just the way you would do in a cafe or at a networking event. We are sociable beings and street photographers for some reason make you believe the opposite… good marketing technique!
I have the worst luck in the world when it comes to street photography. I’ve NEVER encountered situations like that of Pau Buscato or Bruce Gilden. I’ve tried, trust me. I’ve endlessly walked the streets and everything just disappears in front of me when I have a camera, In exchange, when I’m chilling and have no camera with me, the world is a very interesting place.
Good street photography starts with you: if you’re pleased with what you do, if it’s challenging enough, if it has a meaning and you’re not hurting anyone, then it’s good photography. I had to stop pretending to know shit and giving advice on how to be a good street photographer because I realized all these points.
Until next time.
Copyright Notice: All photographs are subject to copyright and protected by UK and international law. Total or partial copy and/or reproduction is strictly forbidden. If you wish to use these photographs for personal, editorial or commercial purposes, please get in touch. ©Xavier D. Buendia / StrayTog