Street Photography International (SPi) is a collective of photographers “who promote the best street photography from around the world.” Their Instagram account—their main platform for promotion—just passed 250K followers. That’s a lot! Especially so for one so narrowly focused on the genre. And for good reason, as they curate and showcase top quality street photos from around the world.
I didn’t start dabbling in photography, via my marketing job, until 2010—well past the technological shift from film to digital that occurred in the early to mid aughts. A half a decade later, the summer of 2015 was when I began focusing on street photography. So, needless to say, I’m a “born digital” shooter who’s only known capturing 1s and 0s to CF and SD memory cards.
If you’re a digital-only shooter too, then maybe like me, you’ve heard a steadily growing chorus of fellow street photographers touting film (that supposedly antiquated medium from the dust bin of photographic history) for its “purity,” its “look,” its “process,” etc. Of course, all I could think about was the expense, the waiting, and the learning curve. Plus, don’t we have VSCO filters that create that filmic look? Pssh.
Well, I finally caved in. And I was wrong. (Not completely, but we’ll get to that later.)
Last night, with a very summery 80-plus degree temperature here in Chicago, I headed to the Gold Coast neighborhood for a street excursion. It felt good to head out with just shorts and a short sleeve shirt! (Geez, you don’t want to see how pasty I am.)
I recorded some of the action; here’s my second POV-style video—accompanying commentary below.
New Camera(s), Same Six Megapixels
My original L11 (my mom’s old one I randomly found) quickly died from battery leakage. RIP, Lucy, you’ll always be my first love.
So, I ordered another from eBay. It arrived and barely worked, only briefly and in fits. You were kinda of a b****, Lana, so I’m moving on.
I first came across them a couple years ago on YouTube: so-called “POV” videos from street photographers who had mounted a small video camera (GoPro, iPhone, etc.) atop their main camera while they shot in the streets.
“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” That’s a quote attributed to Orsen Welles speaking in the context of filmmaking. A rewording in the affirmative sense would be, “The ally of art is the presence of limitations.”
As handed down by street photography forefather Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment is the precise time and place street shooters hope to uncover and capture. The street is a public stage, with passersby as the actors stepping into its sun-lit spotlight. However, for most who walk through it, both as participants and unconscious witnesses, the curtain is still closed.
As street photographers, it is our role to pull back this veil, inviting an audience to see the drama unfolding—not by scripting and performing it, but by framing and freezing it.
Last week, I found the 1973 Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary, “The Decisive Moment.” It features not only many of his most famous photos, but also his commentary as voice over. As a canonized Master of street photography and co-founder of Magnum, of course he could shoot. But, wow, can he talk a good game too! Upon watching the film on YouTube, I couldn’t help but pause to type out some of his impassioned viewpoints.
In 1952, the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson—street photography pioneer and perhaps its most influential master—published his book Images à la sauvette. Loosely translated, it means “images on the run.”
The book’s English edition title was alternatively chosen as The Decisive Moment, thereby giving street photography its most definitive and well-known catch phrase. That phrase, co-opted by Cartier-Bresson, was originally inspired by the 17th century Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal de Retz, who wrote, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” The book stands alongside Robert Frank’s The Americans as arguably the two most essential and important works in street photography, if not photography in general.
Since this is the first in what I intend to be a recurring series, I’ll begin with a general introduction. After discovering the street photography genre in 2015, my new year’s resolution for 2016 was to dedicate myself to its learning and practice; basically, to shoot and to study.
For the latter, that meant finding current street photographers to follow on Instagram, watching how-to videos on YouTube, and Googling to research The Greats of the past.