(Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book)
I was not aware Street Photography NOW was in the works until earlier this year. Then when I heard about it through the photovine, I learned its been in the works since around 2005 which is about the same time I picked up a camera and started networking on Flickr.
There’s a synchronicity between the planning of this book and the rise of the vibrant street photography communities you find on the web today at places like HCSP, and others. With the publication and promotion of the book (including right here) these two paths inevitably converge.
Would the book receive much fanfare without the passionate community you find online? Hard to say, but the publication of this book and Nick Turpin’s recent publishing efforts 10 and PUBLICATION demonstrate that street photography is alive and well no matter what the critics might say.
One of the first photography books I purchased was Bystander, the go to book about the history of street photography. SPN feels like the sequel, except the photographs look much better on the page and it isn’t bogged down in exposition. While I think people who understand the tradition of street photography will have a deeper appreciation for the book, it’s also very accessible for those who are just diving into the genre.
For devoted followers of street photography, many of the names will be familiar, but what really excited me were the names that I didn’t recognize. It’s always a revelation discovering a street photographer who’s developed their vision over the years. Through SPN, I was exposed to the work of Mimi Mollica, Boris Savelev, Munem Wasif, Wolfgang Zurborn and Artem Zhitenev for the first time.
Since the book is a survey, each photographer only has a few pages dedicated to their work, so you’ll need to jump to the web if you want to dig deeper into the work, which is fitting considering the web is where most people view street photography these days.
The essays are well written and illuminate some of the different ideas and trends revolving around contemporary street photography. If you’ve been following the release of the book, you know there’s been a bit of controversy over uncredited quotes that were lifted from 2point8. While I don’t think it’s an issue to get up in arms about, I do think the authors should have made more of an effort to cite the sources of the quotes. Unfortunately because of certain tendencies of the photography community online, the controversy has distracted the conversation about the book, which is unfortunate.
This also dovetails into one of my criticisms of the books. I would have liked to see a bit more written about the role the web has played in the development of street photography in recent years but I understand that’s a tricky topic because book publishing and the internet move at opposite speeds.
From my experience, street photography can be a contentious genre. It brings out passionate opinions and ignites debates. In fact, the very definition of street photography is nearly impossible to pin down. Everyone has their own interpretation. For me, this is what makes it so interesting and dynamic.
The genre, however you define it, certainly has its critics and staunch advocates, and sometimes they clash. The advocates are better served inspiring and promoting what they value about the genre rather than defending it to people who have different objectives in the photography world.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that street photography has experienced a resurgence during the internet age. When people first get hooked on photography and realize they want to move beyond casual snapshots of their friends, or random photos from their life, they most often hit the street.
Shooting on the street liberates novice photographers from the convenience of comfortable surroundings, and into the sea of fleeting moments that make up daily life in our towns and cities. It forces them to look, be bored, develop a routine, and shoot, shoot, shoot until they discover those moments that resonate with them.
For many, street photography is a bridge that leads deep into the tradition of candid and documentary photography. And once they’ve crossed that bridge, the world of photography reveals its infinite possibilities.