Most obviously, Instagram, from a photographer’s perspective, is for sharing and showcasing one’s photos. It’s quickly become the predominant photography platform, at this point probably the main means by which photographers, all genres and levels, market themselves and their work. We’ve seen a new crop of street photographers who have mostly come to notoriety via the app.
The flip side of that coin is that it’s become the best place to find and follow visual artists—not just photographers, but illustrators, painters and drawers, even comic stip makers. Instagram has become my de facto daily visual diet and inspo board, especially now that you can save and organize selected posts into collections.
While scrolling through my pinned posts, I realized how much my street photography as of late has been influenced by the artists I follow, particularly the ones with posts I find myself regularly revisiting in the Saved section—and mostly from non street photographers (and non photographers at that).
Who you follow influences what you find, plain and simple.@cpplunkett
I’ve never consciously thought: ooh, I like this illustrator’s piece, let me try to find a similar scenario on the street. Yet it floored me to find motifs pop up in my photos so strongly and evidently modeled from pieces I admire, and furthermore, to see the link in how my work has evolved in concert with the artists I follow on Instagram. As a street photographer, who you follow influences what you find, plain and simple.
It’s increasingly become aware to me that what I hope to discover in public is what I must first digest in private. As Gary Winogrand put it, “You have to bounce what you’re doing off better work.” And the better work, as I’ve particularly realized in this regard, can most definitely come from outside one’s genre or even medium. Below are three such artists who have greatly inspired and influenced my street photography for the better in 2017.
Malika Favre is a French artist based in London who’s work has been featured in major publications like Vogue and The New Yorker. Her animated cover for the latter, “Operating Theater,” became a story itself when it was re-created across the globe by real-life surgeons themselves.
From the About page of her website: “Her bold, minimal style – often described as Pop Art meets OpArt – is a striking lesson in the use of positive/negative space and colour.”
Watch: “Hide and Seek”
In an interview with The Great Discontent, Malika doled out some advice: “There is no point in adding and adding things to a design. If you can live without it, then you don’t need it; get rid of it. That’s really essential to what I do. If you can remove that line and it still works, then remove that line. Why would you put it there? Less is more.”
This ethos of “less is more” certainly has a bearing on street photography, in that, however challenging, one must aim to remove all that’s unnecessary from the frame. The easiest and most direct application is cropping, but often that’s too late in the process. The most effective means is with the camera in hand when leveling the viewfinder and composing the scene. Or in the case of the below photo I took, making the decision to shoot blind from above, so as to isolate the subject against the bold lines and minimalism of the street underfoot (selective focus be damned).
Also based out of London and in a similar vein as Malika, my next artist of influence is the illustrator Thomas Danthony.
From his website: “Often narrative, Thomas’s work is characterized by a clever use of light, bold compositions and a dose of mystery.” Or as the title in an article from Evil Tender put it, his “Complex Minimalism,” saying, “His craft is in depicting a minor detail with such truth that the entire world reveals itself.
A way to maximize a photo’s commentary is to minimize it’s content.@cpplunkett
The idea that examining a so-called “minor” detail, frozen, from a certain angle and in the right light (both literally and figuratively), can reveal something major about the world is at the heart of street photography, the life blood of both its aesthetic and editorial power. It sounds contradictory on the surface, but a way to maximize a photo’s commentary, and even deepen its narrative complexity, is to minimize it’s content.
The “less is more” ethos then isn’t just about aesthetic efficiency, but also editorial effectiveness. And furthermore, the “intricacy” of a photo—that is, how sturdily it holds up to, and even invites, contemplation and anaylsis (think Cartier-Bresson’s “two minute rule”)—is much more than the sum of its included parts.
My third and final influential artist is Sam Cannon, a director based in New York City who is “living somewhere between still photography and video.” She has gained recognition in recent years as a GIF maker, creating hypnotizing loops that have helped elevate the medium from low-brow internet fun to high-brow fine art.
According to a Slate article from 2015, Sam was “initially inspired by the photographic work of Asger Carlsen or Arno Rafael Minkkinen, artists who use the human form in often surreal or seemingly unnatural ways.”
I’m just trying to change the composition of something we are so used to seeing.Sam Cannon
She goes on in the article: “I’m just trying to change the composition of something we are so used to seeing; there’s something that draws you to them, something that’s wrong but you love it because of that. It’s kind of dirty in a way … bringing movement to that makes it so much more beautiful and horrifying at the same time and once I saw that I got really excited.”
The intent to change the composition of something we are used to seeing aligns completely with the motivations of street photography. And for Sam, that approach has so often been leveled at human bodies, particularly female ones, with an eye toward the macabre and off-kilter, taking a subject matter as natural as the human body and transforming it into something unnaturally surreal.
All rights reserved by Sam Cannon, video courtesy of her Instagram.
Inspired by Sam’s work, I recently found my own mirror of sorts, a high-polished stone building base, to aid in distorting a construction worker on North Clark Street in Chicago.
What You See Is What You Get
The striking use of negative space in the minimally bold compositions of Malik Favre. The mystery-inducing “complex minimalism” of Thomas Danthony. The surreal transformation of the human body in mesmerizing loops from Sam Cannon. All three have inspired my street photography, helping to shape the way I look at the world and having bettered my work in the process.
In such an image-saturated society, it’s more important than ever as a street photographer to consciously manage your visual diet—the fuel for your mind’s eye. There’s no way around it: what you see is what you get.