Critique of Street Photography

Defining Street Photography

There have been many attempts to define street photography in terms of un-mediated realism, objectivity, distance and author-subject impartiality; most of which have failed to engage with, and understand the nature of wider historical and contemporary debates within critical urbanism, and the sociologies of public spaces. Many popular and ‘expert’ definitions of street photography start by suggesting ‘what street photography is not’ – in other words, there is an aim to exclude certain practices from the picture of field. Such an approach is not only naive and misleading, but also gives a completely false account of the history and theory of such a fluid and complex genre.

An alternative, more engaged framing would include a wide continuum of photographic practices associated with street spaces, including architectural, object-oriented, portraiture, documentary, fine art, and landscape forms. If we accept that Street photography has the power to evoke and reflect the histories, politics and aesthetics of urban environments, then such informed practices become enriched, and in turn enriching, rather than alienating, focusing as they so often do on the funny, the foreign and the strange.

So how best might we re-approach and rethink a useful working (re)definition of street photography in a manner that embraces the possibilities of encounter and layered experience? I would suggest the following, put simply and briefly – ‘street photography is a continuum of mediated visual practices that involve photographing in, making photographs of, and are informed by the unfolding narratives of the street.’

Paul Halliday