Past performance doesn’t predict future outcomes. Perhaps for mutual funds, sure. But when determining whether to hit that blue follow button on Instagram, it’s basically all you’ve got to go by. And now, more than ever, there’s a wealth of street photographers on the app using it as their primary means of sharing their work.
I think that who you follow, you actually follow. What you look at trains your brain in how it looks out.
Curating your daily visual diet in your Instagram feed, if you’re a street photographer like myself who wants to get better, may be your most important step for improving in 2017. It’s an exercise regimen for your eyeballs. As important as Instagram is now as a means to gaining an audience, I think it’s just as important a tool to be an audience for other shooters, double tapping and commenting with vigor, forcing yourself to figure out what you think is a cut above.
So that’s why I put together a must-follow list of street shooters who lit up 2016 and will, no doubt, continue top-notch capturing in 2017.
And let me be clear, these are Street Photographers, capital S, capital P. No urban environmentalists. No building-top feet danglers or stride-by enthusiasts or brand-sponsored Storytellers™. These are my favorite public voyeurists who hit the streets religiously to candidly and consistently frame the everyday in such a way as to elevate it, revealing beauty in the not-so-obvious.
And so it begins, the 7 Instagram Street Photographers to follow in this brave new year, 2017.
1) Aaron Berger
Aaron Berger is a twenty-something shooter who currently roams the streets of NYC, displaying a knack for timing and artistic vision well beyond his years. He was invited last year into the street photography collective founded by Nick Turpin, iN PUBLiC. Before taking up photography, Aaron made his living as an online poker player in Thailand (how f***ing cool of a resume builder is that?) and has described himself as “an obsessive personality, with a tendency to get interested in something and then dedicate every waking hour of my life to it.” I for one am certainly glad he turned his obsessive tendency toward a camera!
He’s been consistently posting work to Instagram that keeps getting better and better, and is an up-and-comer to keep an eye on as he breaks into the established scene. Here’s what he had to say about Instagram as a “viable tool for self development” for his photography in an interview with Tyler Simpson at Full Frontal Flash:
I think it has helped me a ton. Constantly looking at other people’s work that I like, seeing all different kinds of work, seeing lots of art that isn’t photography — it’s all been good, and motivating. I’ve agreed with a couple others that it can feel a bit at times like we’re pushing each other. You might think your picture today is ok, then someone posts something that destroys yours and you feel a nice kick in the ass.Aaron Berger
2) Martin Cartagena
Kiss kiss, bang bang! Nobody captures public displays of affection with such bravura and bravery as Martin Cartagena, another NYC street photographer whose film and sometimes flash approach, unflinching in its gaze upon the city’s subjects and happenings, brings you up close and personal to the public action.
His Instagram gallery is populated with striking, cracker jack captures that invite you into a restless and hyper-aware wandering you assume Martin must do in order to continually add to his collection. In a piece he authored for Adorama’s website, Martin described his dogged pursuit of the Moment:
Usually something or someone will pique my interest, and I know that there is a good chance for a photo opportunity if I follow that instinct. Sometimes I follow someone for a long period of time, for blocks and blocks, often in the wrong direction or for several train transfers, even exiting the train to keep tailing them. I’ve waited for people to finish shopping or finish eating in a restaurant. I’ve chased buses and cars on foot, sometimes with success and sometimes without. Whatever it takes to get a shot.Martin Cartagena
3) Ryan (?)
The next featured street photographer is a bit of a mystery. After some Googling, I found a tweet calling him or her “Ryan.” It seems that the buzz is just starting to build around this shooter, evidenced by the rapidly growing likes for his or her photos on Instagram and praise found there from other photographers on this list.
The aforementioned Aaron Berger, asked in his Full Frontal Flash interview to name another photographer he recommended, said, “If I’m only recommending one, I’ll go with someone maybe not a lot of people know. I’ll say a guy called @powercorruptionandlikes on Instagram. Very much has his own thing that he does.”
Judging by the work, no wonder “Ryan” is a photographer’s photographer. His or her photos, most likely captured in LA, use colors boldly and tend to isolate single subjects in bright lighting amidst geometric compositions, often from non-eye level vantage points. The result is sublime Street Photography with a singular, recognizable aesthetic. Growing success and notoriety—and more unveiling?—seem assured in 2017 for this talented shooter.
4) Michelle Groskopf
Michelle Groskopf is a self-described “bad ass lady photographer.” And I couldn’t agree more! According to her website, she’s shot almost daily for the last 20 years—talk about dedication—and has been featured by or contributed to a long list of noteworthy publications. And all that experience, expertise and dedication shows up in her work. On Instagram, she may be the most prolific street account I’ve come across; “sorry not sorry if I over post” are her own words. With such compelling portraiture, though, the thought isn’t ever likely to cross your mind.
Michelle, of any street shooter on this list, so purely illustrates the notion of the ordinary being extraordinary upon closer, more careful consideration (I dare say a tenet that is the very lifeblood of great street photography). She uses flash and gets close. However, her photos never feel in violation of her subjects’ space; rather they intimate in a warm way, each an invitation by Michelle to notice exactly what she sees as so special about them. Suffused in her work is an obvious and deep caring for those she captures.
In an interview with Full Frontal Flash, of which she officially became a member in 2016, she talked about what fuels her photography:
Details betray a lot about us as people. The choices we make and all that. I love details of clothing and how people wear them. I also love shooting casts and temporary physical ailments. I love braces and acne. I have a list of obsessions. I guess that’s what fuels my photography. It’s a lot about categorizing my obsessions or at least sharing them with a larger audience.Michelle Groskopf
5) Jake Michaels
To enter into Jake Michael’s Instagram gallery is to be transported. His lens is like an inter-dimensional doorway, as if giving us a glimpse of a heightened reality that’s always there just beyond the ability of our senses to detect. When I show his work to the uninitiated and explain that it’s street (candid and found), they invariably say “no way.” Yes way!
There is a surrealist quality to his photos, in that they seem so well constructed and so potently distilled, less an emphasis of the street photographer as reporter with camera and more so as painter with brush. The world is a movie lot, its passersby potential characters, all of it waiting to be framed, so it seems for Jake.
He’s a working commercial photographer and photojournalist with a degree in art history who began his foray into Instagram focusing on street photography as a way to get exercise and practice photography. And it sure has paid off! In an interview with Monster Children, he described his process and experience:
On my days off I would park my car downtown and walk. Being on the street allowed me to engage with people. Downtown is the perfect environment because it’s one of the only places in LA where a lot of people are actually outside. I became entranced with the characters I would see, my eyes were always searching for the next personality. I like to photograph people who embody their own uniqueness.Jake Michaels
6) Julian Master
There’s a photo of Julian Master, caught crossing the street by photographer Jorge Garcia by pure happenstance, which shows him donning a khaki-colored vest à la Bruce Gilden. Apropos—and an endearing behind-the-lens glimpse—as Julian, 24 years old and originally from Oregon, carries on the tradition of stalking the Big Apple streets with his flash ready for “characters,” as Bruce has always fondly called his subjects.
As with Gilden, there’s an obvious sense of humor to Julian’s work with a spotlight on the eccentric, a gaze that some viewers could mislabel as ridicule—a similar charge that has been leveled at Gilden. Julian finds the eccentric within the everyday so astutely, capturing its juxtaposition in a way that celebrates and appreciates straightforwardly—I feel his wonder, not his cynicism. He finds weirdness with a knowing wink and invites us into seeing it similarly beautiful, however unconventionally, as he himself does.
For Sukeban magazine, Julian wrote a short essay titled “New York US” explaining his curiosity with the city and its characters:
It’s exciting. It’s got a vibe like things are “happening”– regardless if they are or aren’t. A lot of characters live here too and they’re all squashed together so the chances of running into them are reasonably high. The chances of running into something else that’s interesting and happening right in front of you are also pretty high compared to other places. Come visit. It’s nice here.Julian Master
7) William J Simpson
William J Simpson began shooting on the streets of San Francisco upon moving there in 2010. “I guess it could be said that I’m a paparazzi for the general public although sometimes in this city I feel like a war photographer without a war,” he wrote in his Flickr profile. There’s a timeless, simple elegance his lens gives to his subjects and scenes, often in paradox to the content contained therein, full of the absurdity, weirdness, cleverness and decisive action that make for great street photography.
More than most, William seems dedicated to getting out of the way of the photo, so to speak, with an attendant versatility to his Instagram gallery as a result. There’s humor; decisive moments; shadow play; clever juxtapositions; you name the style of shot, and William is sure to have it! He shines through this diversity and flexibility, never failing to surprise me as a follower becoming familiar with his San Francisco shots.
In regard to his choice to hunt interesting people and often bizarre interactions and scenarios, William wrote:
I’m drawn to this type of photography because in all probability the Golden Gate Bridge will be there tomorrow, the woman bent over in the alley lighting her underwear on fire will not. (true story).William J Simpson
Amen to that! Instagram needs less architectural landmarks, and much more alley-way underwear burning. (Insert fire emoji here, times three.) By no means is this list meant to be a comprehensive “best of” list—simply a helpful start or addition, reflecting my favorite street photographers that I came across this last year. Please let me know some of yours as well!