Finding your own style in street photography is one of the most difficult things to discover. Everyone is influenced by the great street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand, but to differentiate yourself from them can be a life-time journey. Personally I have been having difficulty finding my own style, with my earlier work relying more on juxtaposition and architecture. I have recently started to transition in getting closer to my subjects and shooting with a flash–a technique similar to that of Bruce Gilden and very controversial.
In trying to find my own style, my good friend and fellow street photographer Thomas Leuthard told me about the “Helsinki Bus Station Theory“. It was a commencement speech to graduating photography students at the New England School of Photography in June 2004 by professor Arno Rafael Minkkinen. In the speech, Minkkinen uses the analogy of bus routes to describe one’s own photographic journey. Everybody starts off at the same bus station, and all the buses follow the same route out of the city for about a kilometer. When you stay on a certain bus route for less than a kilometer, you will undoubtedly have your work compared to that of the other great street photographers before you who have “already done it before”.
What should we do when we are trying to find our own street photography style? Minkkinen states: “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.”
Once you stay on the bus for long enough, you will notice that the route your bus is on will eventually diverge from all of the other buses–taking you to a different destination. This is where you will find the subtle nuances of your own work, and discover how your work differentiates from those before and around you.
I am a huge fan of experimentation and trying out new things when it comes to street photography. It can be a wonderful way to find inspiration and discover what you truly like to shoot.
However if you want your work to truly be memorable, remember you must cultivate your own style and stay consistent.
When I look at the work of Thomas Leuthard, he does an array of street photography both with his Nikon DSLR and Lumix GF-1. However when I think of Thomas Leuthard’s style I think of up-and-close candids of people’s faces that stare into your soul. His portraits are all shot with a 50mm and he uses roughly the same framing and aperture. This gives him a consistent look, in which you can spot one of his photos and say, “That is a Thomas Leuthard Photo”. He does experiment quite a bit as well (check out this video of him shooting with a flash) but his main body of work never wavers much.
As of late, I have been personally very influenced by the work of classic street photographers such as Bruce Gilden, Weegee, Mark Cohen, and more contemporary street photographers such as Charlie Kirk and Dirty Harrry. I haven’t quite found my voice or something new I can offer to the table–but I am determined to stay on the bus long enough for me to discover.
Who are some street photographers you have drawn inspiration from and how do you differentiate yourself from their work? Share with us your personal journey with developing your style in street photography in the comments below.