Is Defining “STREET PHOTOGRAPHY” a Good Thing?

Hanoi, 2017

I don’t think so.

Several propositions:

  1. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the supposed “founder” of street photography never used the term “street photography.” Furthermore, he didn’t really like photography. He preferred painting. So after shooting for around 30 years, he got bored of photography, and started to paint and draw instead, until he died.
  2. Definitions stifle innovation: if we only knew “Personal Computers” via Microsoft and IBM, we would have been fucked. Steve Jobs had a vision of the future of computing, and made the Mac the “Anti-PC”. Now for most creative folk, Mac is the de-facto laptop for creatives.
  3. Garry Winogrand, the quintessential street photographer hated the term “street photography.” He preferred the term “zoo photographer.”
  4. William Klein, another quintessential street photographer interacted with his subjects on the street. His famous “Kid with gun photo” was provoked by Klein telling the kid, “Look tough!”
  5. Street Portraits are Street Photography: Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Bruce Gilden prove it.

I think I have effectively proven that “street photography” is a silly term. Every major practitioner of street photography didn’t define what they did.

Practical suggestions:

  1. Define street photography for yourself. And just shoot whatever interests you. No limits or boundaries or glass ceilings.
  2. If people tell you that you are not a street photographer, or that your photos are not “street photography”, say, “You are correct. I am a zoo photographer.” And walk away.

Never define yourself. That is the way to die as an artist.

(This idea was inspire day by a thread in ERIC KIM FORUM, on if it were useful to define street photography).

So does defining photography, Street Photography or art help or harm us? Share your opinion and voice in ERIC KIM FORUM.


Tokyo, 2012

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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