Is Street Photography Killing Itself? – PetaPixel

“street photography has become the social media of photography: an avalanche of banal, shallow and unreflective nothing that hasn’t the time to consider its own context.”

I like street photography. But most of it proves Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything sucks.

Source: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?

8 thoughts on “Is Street Photography Killing Itself? – PetaPixel

  1. Sturgeon’s Law is roughly correct, on average, over time. Accepting that means that realizing that 90% of street photography has always had the negative characteristics described in the article. And so have all other kinds of photography, other art forms, and all human endeavor. So what is different now? The author indicates two things: trendiness and quantity. I think he is right, and I would add a third, accessibility. In every area of art, we see so many images that it is very hard to identify, carefully analyze, appreciate, and give lasting attention to the 10% that isn’t junk. Kirk has mentioned this in his podcast, The Next Track. There is so much good music being produced, that nothing grabs and holds our interest.

    I see this problem in the linked article. The author presents nine intriguing photographs near the end, and comments negatively on every one of them. In my opinion, all of them are good. In his opinion, all of them are tedious repetitions of a tired formula. Becoming jaded is a serious problem for anyone who spends a lot of time with art. It takes no effort to be tired of what we are seeing. It’s easy to be bored with another painting of a garden, and sunset, a still life. Or another love song, in 4/4 time, using the seven-note western scale. That trap seems to have captured the author.

    Sturgeon’s Law could be a warning to us, that 90% of our reactions and criticisms are also junk. The difficult challenge for anyone who cares about art, whether it is street photography or something else, is to be able to discard our own jaded reactions, along with the dross of the work that we look at, and to find a way to appreciate, enjoy, and learn from at least 10% of the work that we experience.

    • I agree with the thing about the author not commenting on the photos he presents. As you say, they are all good enough, but they have become clichés. Part of the problem is that it’s so cheap to shoot 8 frames per second on the street, and keep dozens of photos from each day’s shooting, then spray them around on social media. If people were told they could only keep one photo per day, that would be an interesting exercise to see how they would choose the best one, rather than just assuming that a dozen or so are good enough.

  2. Sturgeon’s Law is roughly correct, on average, over time. Accepting that means that realizing that 90% of street photography has always had the negative characteristics described in the article. And so have all other kinds of photography, other art forms, and all human endeavor. So what is different now? The author indicates two things: trendiness and quantity. I think he is right, and I would add a third, accessibility. In every area of art, we see so many images that it is very hard to identify, carefully analyze, appreciate, and give lasting attention to the 10% that isn’t junk. Kirk has mentioned this in his podcast, The Next Track. There is so much good music being produced, that nothing grabs and holds our interest.

    I see this problem in the linked article. The author presents nine intriguing photographs near the end, and comments negatively on every one of them. In my opinion, all of them are good. In his opinion, all of them are tedious repetitions of a tired formula. Becoming jaded is a serious problem for anyone who spends a lot of time with art. It takes no effort to be tired of what we are seeing. It’s easy to be bored with another painting of a garden, and sunset, a still life. Or another love song, in 4/4 time, using the seven-note western scale. That trap seems to have captured the author.

    Sturgeon’s Law could be a warning to us, that 90% of our reactions and criticisms are also junk. The difficult challenge for anyone who cares about art, whether it is street photography or something else, is to be able to discard our own jaded reactions, along with the dross of the work that we look at, and to find a way to appreciate, enjoy, and learn from at least 10% of the work that we experience.

    • I agree with the thing about the author not commenting on the photos he presents. As you say, they are all good enough, but they have become clichés. Part of the problem is that it’s so cheap to shoot 8 frames per second on the street, and keep dozens of photos from each day’s shooting, then spray them around on social media. If people were told they could only keep one photo per day, that would be an interesting exercise to see how they would choose the best one, rather than just assuming that a dozen or so are good enough.

  3. A lot of “street photography” published on the net is pretty ho-hum and doesn’t stir my imagination. Including the set near the end of the article.

    I think that’s just a consequence of the pervasiveness of social media, being an easy medium to publish photos, and the low entry bar to making photographs on the street.

    For me, a compelling street photo needs to stir my imagination, exhibit some ambiguity, withhold some information, and as a result, and ideally, release a narrative of some sort (any will do) worth pondering for more than a second.

    Making photographs of random people walking by (usually speaking into a phone), and shooting at a 45 degree angle to a building, seems to be the norm. As a viewer, why would I care about or be interested in that?

    For many street shooting seems to be about stealth shooting, which usually results in photographs lacking power. In reality, people shoot stealth because they don’t want to be confronted by a potentially angry subject, though the stated reason is “not wanting to disturb the scene.” Right…

    Fortunately, cream still rises to the top. It’s just a lot more difficult finding it today.

  4. A lot of “street photography” published on the net is pretty ho-hum and doesn’t stir my imagination. Including the set near the end of the article.

    I think that’s just a consequence of the pervasiveness of social media, being an easy medium to publish photos, and the low entry bar to making photographs on the street.

    For me, a compelling street photo needs to stir my imagination, exhibit some ambiguity, withhold some information, and as a result, and ideally, release a narrative of some sort (any will do) worth pondering for more than a second.

    Making photographs of random people walking by (usually speaking into a phone), and shooting at a 45 degree angle to a building, seems to be the norm. As a viewer, why would I care about or be interested in that?

    For many street shooting seems to be about stealth shooting, which usually results in photographs lacking power. In reality, people shoot stealth because they don’t want to be confronted by a potentially angry subject, though the stated reason is “not wanting to disturb the scene.” Right…

    Fortunately, cream still rises to the top. It’s just a lot more difficult finding it today.

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