Eric’s Note: I am excited to share this interview with the “Street-photographers” collective. I sent them 22 interview questions, and the members shared their personal answers opinions below. See their superb images and insights on street photography below!
1. What does ‘street photography’ mean to you? – Ed Peters
Street Photography is a subset of those objects and practices that make up the “art world”. This “art world” is simultaneously a network of institutions (galleries, publications, web sites, etc.) where street photography is sometimes the subject.
I suppose that you could also say that street photography interprets events happening in the public space, and can potentially incorporate a very diverse category of images. It currently includes everything, from Eugene Atget’s contemplative views of a bygone Paris, to Michael Wolf’s recent appropriation of images on Google Street View.
2. What first drew you to street photography—and how did you discover it? – Brian Soko
When I started doing this, I had no idea there was an entire genre devoted to it. I spent four years photographing people before I found out others were doing the same. I was going through some rough times in my life.
My friend had a Pentax K1000 collecting dust on her bookshelf. I bought some film and walked around my neighborhood for ten hours.It just felt natural to me. I haven’t stopped since that day.
3. What do you think makes a memorable street photograph? – Umberto Verdoliva
Henri Cartier-Bresson said that he kept the photographs that you can look at for more than two minutes. But what about the photos that you can look at again and again?
They are few, and only become memorable when they open the minds of people, noticing something special when they least expect to.
4. How does black and white vs color play into your work? Do you find them to be totally separate beasts—or complementary? – Chema Hernandez
Generally it depends on the subject. Black and white is more subjective than color, more distanced from reality, and so allows more freedom when creating an image. I use it to suggest a special atmosphere, or when color is not an important component.
Because color is closer to reality, it’s more difficult to take memorable images, so I only use it when it’s an important element in a picture.
5. For you how important is content versus form in street photography. Do you think for you one plays a stronger role than the other? – Andreas Paradise
Content and form are both very important elements in a photo. I personally believe that a good photo is one which encapsulates an effective fight between composition and content, a photo without a winner in this contest.
If content is a clear winner, the photo is too conceptual for my taste. If form is the clear winner, then it’s too graphic. I like a photo on the edge — that’s a good one.
6. What do you want your viewers to take away from your work? – Shin Noguchi
I want viewers to enjoy the extraordinary moments and at the same time, I want them to appreciate the fact that these moments can happen anywhere and at anytime. Extraordinary moments exist in our daily lives.
The question is whether or not you can find or see these moments.
7. What do you think are some clichés in street photography you steer away from yourself? – Alison McCauley
I don’t steer away from anything. If something or someone is there and their presence is part of a scene I find interesting, why avoid them?
8. What were the difficulties you encountered first starting street photography? – Dimitri Mellos
The main difficulty I have struggled with, both when I started but also even now, is my own inhibition about photographing strangers, invading their privacy. Especially when I started I felt very guilty about it, and also worried about what I imagined people’s reactions might be.
With time, those fears were mostly assuaged, as I discovered that (at least when a photographer is quick and discreet enough) most people don’t even notice when they are being photographed, and, even if they do, they don’t react badly. But even so, I still feel that photographing people on the street is a small intrusion into their personal space.
I need to keep reminding myself that, as far as the range of aggressive practices and behaviors that humans are capable of goes, street photography is pretty low on the scale. And also (even though I would definitely not generally endorse the mentality of “the end justifying the means”) that, if street photography is done with respect for the subjects, and not with voyeuristic intentions or in the pursuit of cheap laughs, even this momentary intrusion into the lives of others is worth it, to the extent that it can produce something beautiful and moving, something of lasting value.
But even so, for me it is always a struggle to overcome my inhibitions whenever I go out to photograph.
9. Who are some of your favorite classic photographers, and how did they influence you? – Ed Peters
When I first became interested in photography, I came across a book entitled World Photography. It included portfolios from well known photographers and interviews with each of them. When Lee Friedlander was interviewed, he mentioned the names of some photographers whose work he loved.
That list included: Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Brandt, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Andre Kertesz, Weston, Robert Frank, Watkins, and O’ Sullivan. At that time I wasn’t familiar with the work of all of these people, but it’s a pretty impressive list. Today I could compile my own list, adding more names ( Friedlander would be among them), but those mentioned would still be a good place to start.
While it’s true that I’ve been influenced by various photographers, it’s also worth saying that I’ve been affected by people working in other traditions. Matisse, for example, has greatly informed my understanding of color. All too often photographers talk as if we inhabit a ghetto, but it’s important to realise that we actually live in a world of multiple cultural currents.
10. What are some of your favorite books on street photography – and what about them do you love? – Umberto Verdoliva
I really appreciated the essays on photography written by Geoff Dyer in “The Ongoing Moment“. In that book Dyer describes the ongoing dialogue between individual photographers, as each addresses similar subjects in their work.
A short list includes: eyes: stairs, hats, roads, benches, barber shops, street signs, and nude women. This kind of visual conversation can help us see the world differently, As Henri Cartier-Bresson said: photographs can be “a way of understanding.” All this has influenced me in pursuing themes in my own work.
11. When you are out shooting—how much of it is instinctual versus planned? – Ed Peters
Using the word instinct might confuse things. An instinct is an unlearned biological response, and street photography is the opposite of that. It’s a culturally acquired practice that’s only existed for a limited period of time. What we’re really talking about are the choices a photographer makes when taking photographs.
Like any other human activity the choices made involve a series of relatively conscious (for lack of a better word) and unconscious mental processes. How the mind works is a complex operation that’s frequently different from what we assume it to be, so I think it would be risky for me to make any off-the-cuff comments.
As for my way of working, I sometimes have only a few seconds to frame a picture, while at other times I can slow things down and compose an image more carefully. I think most street photographers do the same. There’s nothing special about it.
12. What are your thoughts on working on single images versus projects? – Arindam Thokder
When I ‘m shooting on the street, I don’t typically have projects in mind. I want to be as free and open as possible. Otherwise, there’s a chance that I’ll miss strong singles while focusing on a project.
When I have a large portfolio, however, a project might sometimes occur to me. I can then take some time, do some planning, and shoot additional pictures that will be good enough to complete the project.
13. What are the benefits (and disadvantages) you find being part of a collective? Alison McCauley
I think that as long as you all have similar objectives, the benefits far outweigh any disadvantages. I like being familiar with the other members’ work and understanding more what motivates them. The other members are a source of inspiration to me. Having a group of people whose judgment I trust is so helpful when I’m stuck or just want a second or third opinion. Also there is definitely strength in numbers.
Being part of a collective requires time and effort, but so does everything that’s worth having.
14. Who is another photographer in your collective whose work you particularly admire? – Fabio Costa
That is a hard question, because everyone has some work than I admire, but if I have to choose, I’d like to mention Gustavo Minas.
In 2010, when I joined the collective, I moved from Sao Paulo to Paris. A few months later, Gustavo joined the collective and contributed remarkable photos of the city where I was born and raised. This was the first time than I saw his work and it was a huge surprise.
Gustavo was a student of one of the great masters of street photography in Brazil: Carlos Moreira. I believe that Carlos must be proud of his pupil. Gustavo’s work is exquisite and it’s very easy to see how dedicated he is. He has superb command of light, shadow, and overall composition. I really appreciate everything he does, but his photographs of Sao Paulo have really helped me rediscover my city.
15. What are some projects/ideas do you have for street-photographers? – Shin Noguchi
As an international collective, we’re always open to the possibilities of exhibiting and supporting street photography throughout the world.
16. What are your thoughts and feelings about shooting individually (versus shooting with a friend or small group of friends) when out on the streets? – Maria Plotnikova
I think walking alone is comfortable for many street photographers. Many, myself included, are introverts who prefer to be absorbed in our work, not paying attention to external stimuli (in this case our friends).
This isolation puts me in a meditative mood, but, paradoxically, also prepares me to react quickly to the chaos of the street. If I’m talking to another person, I might be distracted and miss a picture.
Sometimes, however, I shoot with a group. I do this to compare my results with those of other photographers. This forces me to rethink my perceptions of a place.
For beginners, shooting in a group can also be relaxing, and competition with other members of the group can occasionally produce excellent results.
17. Why do you take photos? – Laurent Roch
The act of photographing allows me to extend my natural curiosity. Anthropology and sociology interest me, and every time I experience a new place I look at how people organize their lives. Even though rampant modernization tends to standardize behavior, there are still unique cultures around the world.
I try to be an attentive observer, and see things that I never suspected before. Taking photographs gives me the power to stop time, appreciate the truth of a moment and question myself.
18. How has social media played a role in your photography? – Gustavo Minas
Back in 2009, when I started photographing in Sao Paulo, I wasn’t even aware of the term “street photography”. I was just shooting available subjects, and pursuing a personal style. I was highly influenced by Harry Gruyaert’s book Lumieres Blanches. Then I got to know all those street photography groups on Flickr and realized that I wasn’t alone at all. The contact with hundreds of other street photographers has been stimulating most of the time.
The upside was that I got to know many great photographers, which I think influenced me and helped me refine my own photography. I became more critical of my own photos, and it made me want to “raise the bar”. The feedback of other Flickr members also helped me identify which photos were “keepers”.
On the other hand, I think that seeing too many photos online that adhere to rigid “rules” can be poisoning, and misdirect a photographer from finding his own voice.
19. What are some tips/advice you would give to yourself if you started street photography all over again? – Alison McCauley
I would tell myself to not be influenced by what everyone else is doing and saying, to think carefully about what, how and why I want to photograph and to stay true to myself.
20. What other street photographers (contemporary) and collectives you like to follow—and what about their work do you love? – Umberto Verdoliva
I’ve watched with interest a number of collectives that have formed, and think that it’s a generally positive development.
One group that I especially like is Urban Picnic. It’s a website that features various approaches to street photography. This is refreshing, because sometimes groups can have rigid one-dimensional approaches to the genre.
21. Do you take photos more for yourself—or for others? – Alison McCauley
Nowadays the only pictures I take for others are the ones I’m occasionally commissioned to take, but it’s taken a while to get to this point. When I first became very interested in street photography, I was blissfully unaware of the activity on photo-sharing sites. Most of my family and friends only feigned a polite interest in my obsession, and I quietly developed projects that were meaningful to me.
In 2010 I started to post photos on Flickr and I have to admit that I enjoyed the feedback so much that I found myself taking and posting images that I knew would get more of a reaction but that may not necessarily have been the kind of images that spoke to me.
This period lasted for about a year, until I realised that if I didn’t concentrate on the kind of projects that meant something to me, I was wasting my time.
22. What is one question nobody has ever asked you—that you wish they asked you? – Ed Peters
What is the difference between beauty and vulgarity? At times the line is narrow, and that makes for a thought provoking appreciation of a great deal of exhibited art ( both photographs and other genre).
I recently saw an exhibition of Claes Oldenburg’s work from the sixties, and his rough appropriation of “vulgar” pop culture debris made me think about how I depict similar subjects in my own photographs. I hope, on my better days, that I can also successfully blur that line.
If you want to see a compilation of the best photographers from Street-Photographers, check out their book via the links below: