When Will Street Photography Finally Grow Up?

Mar 30, 2015

Marius Vieth

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

When Will Street Photography Finally Grow Up?

Mar 30, 2015

Marius Vieth

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Although this article is not the easiest one to write, I just need to get this off my chest. In case you haven’t noticed, street photography means the world to me. I pour all my heart and soul into it and to be honest, just like you I couldn’t imagine living without it anymore. If something or someone has a special place in your heart, you are willing to go out of your way and speak out inconvenient truths that may or may not offend certain people. Whether you may fully agree with what I’m saying or can’t believe that I have the audacity to do so, I’m only saying this, because I deeply care.

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I’ve been capturing life on the streets for almost two years now. Yes, this is not a very long time and there are people who have been doing it for 10 or more years, but there’s something I stumbled upon more often than I like. It made my journey into this unique genre harder, it makes it harder for new photographers just joining the party and it makes it harder for creative minds who have been doing it for years. As weird as it sounds, but Street Photography is a teenager that needs to finally grow up and realize that life beyond adolescence is even more amazing. Excuse me, but Street Photography is what?

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Let me explain. I don’t know if you have ever encountered that mentality, but photography is sometimes like High School. You have all the different genres which resemble all sorts of cliques. Each one has their very own values, code of ethics and what is “cool” according to them. I hope the rest of the cliques forgive me, but I honestly think that street photography is one of the coolest cliques out there. Because they are daredevils. They take a leap of faith every day to capture real moments of random strangers. They spent an awful lot of time to learn how to do this within milliseconds and they are not afraid to capture what they love. Because if there’s one genre where you have to pour all your heart and soul into it in order to create something breathtaking, it’s street photography.

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However, this clique has one problem. Despite the fact that street photography has the most potential of all genres to be anything it wants to be, there’s still a lot of conformism and peer pressure going on. Although this is a general problem in photography and all other creative fields, street photography unfortunately holds on to that a lot. Have you ever heard someone say: no, street photography has to be like this. No it has to be like that. No, according to the masters you have to take this approach. No, you can only do this if you do that. If you were a true street photographer, you’d not do this. I’ve heard and read this many many times during my two year journey and I got to admit, it’s poison for the creative potential of this genre and it really bothers me.

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I know where street photography has its roots. I know who influenced the genre. I know the amazing photographers who were truly brave decennia ago so that we can do what we are doing. They were the ones who laid the groundwork of this genre, they were the ones who got the ball rolling and they were the ones who defined certain styles that they loved. But we are the ones who have to take this genre to the next level. We are the ones who have to twist and turn it, re-interpret it and give it a whole new meaning that the masters would’ve been proud of. Do you think they would’ve wanted that we cling too much to their style and techniques? This has nothing to do with not showing respect or not appreciating what they did. It’s about liberating the creative soul of the whole genre.

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The genre can only break its chains if we take the same courage as the masters and simply do what we love. What we want it to be. What we think is right. Street photography simply has to leave the teenage years behind and grow up. It’s a scary step in this big and open world, but it’s the place where it needs to go. Now. The transition may be tough, but also the most rewarding experience for everyone. Even if some people won’t like it, it will and it has to happen. But what does that mean?

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It doesn’t mean that street photographers can’t use the narrative and visual style of the masters or what seems to be accepted among the majority. It simply means street photography can be whatever it wants to be. No rules. No borders. Pure creative anarchy if you want. Why should this daring genre with its brave photographers have conformism anyways? You only want to take black and white photos? Awesome! Street photography has to show colors? Great! You want to see street photography in a highly processed style out of Photoshop? Perfect, go for it. No matter what you want to do with it, it’s fine. It’s grown up! It can take it. Do whatever you want. You define the genre no matter how you see it. Only take photos of shadows, only focus on people’s eyes, take your photos with a fish-eye lens or with a 800mm zoom lens. Use the camera you like, use the lens you like. Simply promise yourself to do 100% what you think street photography has to be.

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Listen to constructive criticism, learn from the masters and everyone else, but do yourself and the community a huge favor and pour all your awesomeness, values, heart and soul into your photography without ever thinking: can I do this? Is this true street photography? Yes it is. The genre is grown up! You can do what ever you want. The genre is free. And it will be better than ever before! If there’s someone telling you that your style is just not what street photography has to be, thank him. Because then you’ve made it. You’ve created your own street photography that is one in a million in this world – and that is what the masters did back then. They would’ve been proud of you!

Go out there, take your cam and create the most incredible street photography the world has never seen before: your street photography!

About The Author

Marius Vieth is a street photographer from Amsterdam. Together with his partner Martin Dietrich he runs the International Fine Arts Label NEOPRIME, a limited editions gallery aimed at lovers of art. You can follow Marius on twitterflickrFacebookinstagram, and tumblr. You can download his free street photography book here. This article was first published here and shared with permission.

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12 responses to “When Will Street Photography Finally Grow Up?”

  1. disqus_vBZ2nSpMs5 Avatar
    disqus_vBZ2nSpMs5

    Completely agree. This can be said of any genre of photography, indeed any art. That’s the whole point, the reinvention and re-creation of the art form.

    1. Marius Vieth Avatar
      Marius Vieth

      Makes me happy to hear that!

  2. IL Avatar
    IL

    That doesn’t seem to be a problem with street photography as a genre. It’s a problem with the community, or perhaps specific segments of the street photography community that you engage with. Maybe it’s time to step back, remove yourself from the distorting effects of group dynamics, and do your own thing. But then that’s hard to do in today’s world, of course, where so much of success is measured by social engagement.

    1. Marius Vieth Avatar
      Marius Vieth

      Yeah that’s true, you can never completely do it on your own. But sometimes it’s better to just go by what you love no matter how weird it seems.

  3. Gordon Lewis Avatar
    Gordon Lewis

    Although I agree with the general premise of your argument, I can’t help but wonder whether you believe there is no such thing as bad street photography or that one should completely reject constructive critiques. Surely there should be a balance between following one’s passion versus acknowledging that there could be room for improvement and new inspiration.

    1. Marius Vieth Avatar
      Marius Vieth

      I believe there is such a thing as bad street photography. But I’m convinced that the worst street photography is the one, that isn’t 100% what you want it to be.

      As I’ve written, listen to constructive criticism, but stick with what you love.

  4. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    All artists, especially photographers love to criticize but few are offering suggestions. Visit any forum and you’ll see plenty sharing what they think is wrong, but try to find someone sharing how to improve.

    Even this article says “Listen to constructive criticism, learn from the masters and everyone else” but the only solution is to “pour all your awesomeness, values, heart and soul into your photography”.

    Photographers need to start their journey with what they hope to get out of this. Do you want to become a professional, an artist, or are you just having fun, or somewhere in between?

    By simply throwing your heart and soul into it, sure you’ll have passion, but that doesn’t mean you’ll reach your goals. You also need to learn who to listen to. Everyone has opinions, but that doesn’t mean those opinions are worth listening to.

    People who buy art rarely share the same views as those make art. Buyers don’t get caught up in the technical details, they buy what they like. They don’t care what camera was used, what editing program was used, what format you took the image in, and they don’t care whether it follows all the so called rules of photography.

    Buyers want to be moved, they want something that makes them stop and stare. These are the people photographers should be listening to.

    1. Marius Vieth Avatar
      Marius Vieth

      Yeah true! Buyers don’t care how you did it with what kind of gear. But photographers shouldn’t listen to much to what the buyers say, because otherwise there would only be sunset photos and touristy shots of cities, which the majority of general poster buyers loves.

  5. Norman Fox Avatar
    Norman Fox

    Marius please feel free to cut and paste this entire article and post it as a reply to
    my comments on your last piece shared by DIY. (The one where you “suggest” people do what you did, in order to become better photographers)

    There is some serious hypocrisy in the contrast.

    The masters of street photography were not trying to master anything other than
    their own lives and their relationships to their own worlds. They just happened
    to be carrying cameras. And they would be the first to tell you that they
    eventually did not give a shit about those cameras or even photography. They
    were involved in their worlds as artists.

    Street photography as a genre does not need to do anything: “growing up”
    being the most ridiculous suggestion yet. What the world of photography does
    need less of are fewer gurus. You have some beautiful images in your portfolio
    but when you self-promote under the guise of being some sort of spokesperson
    for street photography (which is nothing more than a desire for fame) they are
    reduced to advertisements, and very small fish in a very big pond; mimicry in
    fact.

    So I don’t think there is any need for criticism in street photography (in answer
    to the question you pose Gordon Lewis) as it just could never be that interesting. It is a bit like admiring counterfeit money; in the end the results of even the “masters” can’t buy you a single cup of coffee.

    Street photography is not about the image or the camera. It is about the person and
    more specifically that person’s discovery of the light that illuminates each of
    our individual worlds. All great artists come to realize that they themselves
    are in fact the source of that light and that they are not the brush nor the
    bronze nor the words nor the camera. And they do not see themselves as great
    artists. That’s the best part.

    1. Marius Vieth Avatar
      Marius Vieth

      Wow, Norman. Love the last paragraph! Would love to frame that!

  6. yopyop Avatar
    yopyop

    “When Will Street Photography Finally Grow Up?”, “Street Photography is a teenager that needs to finally grow up and realize that life beyond adolescence is even more amazing”.

    To be honest and without trying to be a smartass, I don’t understand any of this. I get the obvious “do what you want” part of the article but for the rest, I’m not able to see the motive behind this article. It’s like you were voluntarily narrowing your view of the genre only to state that it needs to expand itself. How about we talk photography as a whole and not only street photography? The good thing being that the photographs illustrating the articles are pretty good examples : some aren’t only street photography, they’re landscapes integrating human beings in the frame.

  7. Jacob Dix Avatar
    Jacob Dix

    This was a much needed article. I’ve seen it myself. Street is black and white. The subject shouldn’t be aware of your camera. Abstractification of the image prevents it from being street. I agree that it is too bound,though since coming from an artistic rather than photographic view of street, I’ve had a habit of ignoring those norms, glitching the background, duplicating people in a scene. Switching of people’s faces. And why not? The moment anyone used a flash, they are altering reality. Same goes in post processing of you add a filter. Why stop there?