Photographic Ideology and The Accidental Street Photographer
Lately I’ve been identified by several people as a “Street Photographer”. This kind of took me by surprise, as it’s not something that I ever really considered myself to be until recently. I certainly never set out to be a street photographer. I started heading out on photo walks across the city as a way of practising my craft and it kind of snowballed from there. The more I went out with my camera the more I began to see things differently. My lens acted as a way to focus on the city and the people I was used to seeing, and look at it and them in a way that I hadn’t really noticed before. One day it suddenly occurred to me that I was shooting a lot of what could be considered “street photography”.
There’s a lot of things written about street photography online. There are a lot of so called rules and guidelines on what makes “real” street photography, and a lot of this is conflicting information. Some people will tell you that you have to shoot with a wide angle or 35mm lens and get close to your subjects, and yet some of the most renowned street photography has been shot with a telephoto lens. Some people will tell you that you have to talk to your subjects and get to know them for it to be “real” street photography, while others will tell you that you have to shoot candidly and not disturb the scene around you for it to be “real”. There are so many definitions and laws to street photography that it would make your head explode.
But I learned a little secret after doing this for several years, and I’m going to tell it to you now. Those ideological "rules" are all nonsense. The only people who care about your ideology are other “street photographers”. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the photograph, the finished product. If you see a photo in a magazine or on a billboard or in a book or in a gallery, unless it’s a photography magazine, you don’t know what the photographer did to take it, and most people don’t care so long as it’s a good photo.
And this applies to all photography too. Since the photography community has grown so large on the internet, so many articles and blog posts about photography have become so negative, focussing on all the things you shouldn’t do if you want to be a “real” photographer. Here’s the thing, it’s far more important to worry about what you do, than what you don’t do. At the end of the day, if you have a photo on a magazine spread, no one will care whether you dared to look at your camera’s LCD during the shoot, or pixel peeped when post processing. Do you know what a ”real" photographer does to get a shot? Whatever it takes. It’s as simple as that.
It’s this ideological dogma that kept me from identifying myself as a “street photographer” for so long, and I guess I still don’t to some extent, because to me it’s still just photography that happens to be taken on the street. I guess the point of all this is to say that try and not get bogged down by the ideology that surrounds the photography community on the web. Skill, creativity and vision are fare more important than these arbitrary things that you supposedly shouldn't do. If your still learning photography, get a good photography book and learn the craft. Despite what you read on the internet, technical skills are still an important part of photography. Most people still like sharp, properly exposed photos. You will often hear that you need to find your niche and your style, but in my experience, until you shoot a lot of photography, you won’t, so shoot what you like to shoot, and eventually your niche will find you.
I’ve shot on the streets of New York, Paris, Oslo, Vienna and Dublin, and I love capturing the life of these places as well as the people, the buildings and the little details that people often miss. I do whatever makes sense at the time to get good photographs, and people seem to like them for the most part.
Apparently this makes me a street photographer.
You can find more of my Dublin street photography on my ongoing Streets of Dublin Project. It has a website and a Facebook page featuring street and cityscape photography around my home city of Dublin.
[Updated] Tweaked a few sentences for improved readability
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