Tag: street photography

Images Matter

Oakland, CA – The Black Lives Matter movement brought Oakland back into the political foreground in a way not felt since the Women’s March and before that, Occupy. But the granddaddy of them all was the Black Panther Party activism born and bred in Oakland. Only recently has the tremendous role of artwork in that movement been receiving its due attention. But the urgency of the current BLM activism makes newer works the full focus of attention, daily, in the same way.

Art itself is known most broadly for having two key characteristics. The first is that it can communicate universal themes across time, place and cultures. The second is that individual artists will likely either express their common affinity with each other by using similarities, or they will differentiate themselves by tending their expression away from commonality towards uniqueness.

In that light, it is both expected and surprising how artists come together to articulate, cohere, and enhance the universal theme of Black Lives Matter – its insistence on freedom from abuse of power – through a wide variety of styles.

The word “style” itself is often taken for granted. We rarely think of anything artistic as being without a style, but we also do not always consider style to be sufficient as an indicator that something is “art”. This leaves a mental space between what something graphic or visual might do to simply indicate an idea (such as visible writing), and what it might do to represent an idea (such as pictures).

The most noticed exploration of that space in the public outdoors has for decades been graffiti. We have long ago become accustomed to recognizing graffitists (aka “writers” and “taggers”) as artists, and to call what they do “work”. But for many people, the habits of art talk have actually inverted, psychologically, the relationship of the words “art” and “work”. It is for them as if Art is a primary thing in the universe of manufacture, like “meals” – and the output is called “work” simply as a kind of respectful compliment. The truth is, rather, that art is fundamentally work, before it is anything else, and a fundamental question about all art production is this: what kind of work is being done?

This is not a question about genre. Rather, the work that is called art is always effort being made to discover and display how meaning can be created, and that is precisely why we do say “the art OF this, or the art OF that”… Motorcycle maintenance, war, cooking, pitching, farming, design, conversation, composing, seduction, and so on.

Political and religious expression is work, and there is an art OF each.

Considering style again, I am reminded of how the idea of style invariably makes sense to me. I always think initially of the mark that is made on a surface with a stylus. The mark left with a stylus is evidence of a presence, an intent, and a circumstance. The more intentional the mark is, the more likely it is trying to be a sign – whether about something or to something. And the more familiar it is within certain types of situations, the more it is also a signal.

We know that signals have two functions – to alert, and to attract. These are the same two major influences of the large assembly of wall art triggered by, and made for, the Black Lives Matter movement.

The BLM movement is, by definition, a demonstration of the presence of victims, who now insist on social justice through respect from holders of power and who announce their intent to improve social equity through maintaining solidarity of allies. The works of art literally make their mark directly on the very devices and surfaces that were constructed to shield established power-holders — business interests — from harm. Once there, those marks were, and are, rallying points for the like-minded in any community regardless of location, occupation or status.

In the variety of styles and imagery, the range is full spectrum from writing to glyphs, icons, symbols, drawings, portraits and scenes, encompassing all kinds of animate and inanimate items while referencing people, places, ideas and events. This taxonomy of the imagery could not by itself predict or predispose any of the works displayed except in the fact of their diversity, of their range of explorations in how to convey the relevant “meanings” held in common by the Movement.

Easily, the most important impression made by the aggregation of the display is the implication that the works were pre-imagined independently but made with great awareness of each other. Being outdoors, the space between the works was filled with walking, and arriving at each one of them was a very typical gallery-like experience. But because of the streets being nearly empty during a fabulously sunlit afternoon, each piece radiated in the way that a performance does from a stage.

However, more importantly, there was the dual-track nature of the installations.

On one track, pieces were clearly site-specific, literally appropriating the many buildings for their different and special purpose.

On the other track, pieces opportunistically, but in large number, exploited a line of sight usually felt either from a distance or in passing. In this track, the directness of the message projected from the space simulated the presence of persons who at other times might have been on the walkways calling out or shouting.

As a result, the overall effect was that the group of works created their own environment and then populated it.

I’ve said that this was done on two tracks – but they were not really so binary in presentation. Rather, there were those two different directions on a span of effects, with many points along the way that could also blend some of one with some of the other.

Meanwhile, the messages were consistent, and clearly fashioned to be a record of testimony and witness… history made live by being told in the first-person.


What is “Street Photography” ??

Street photography is a type of nature photography in which an outdoor habitat common to towns or cities is the setting for observing the unscripted behavior of people including their use and creation of the habitat.

Background

The cultural history of the term “street” photography is similar to that of the sports term “football”. While there are many different variants of games that are called football, the primary distinction being made is that the game is played on foot on the ground, as opposed (historically) to on horseback or other elevating base that had already been established as the acceptable norm. The primary distinction of street photography is versus the studio.

Method

A stylistic convention of the observation being conducted is that it is performed and represented from the point of view of an anonymous inhabitant of the habitat.

A range of interests is accommodated within that point of view.  As a rule, the observer is not included as a performer nor as a catalyst of the observed behavior. However, an important principle at work in the observation is that the opportunity to do the observation can be found in any position of view that an inhabitant of the habitat might have.

In that regard, the observer usually represents, to some degree, someone whose presence is part of the characteristics that are “ordinary” for the particular habitat, regardless of how different the displayed habitat is from other environments.

The result of that representation is the implicit narrative of “the environment taking a look at itself” – which in turn presumes that the subject of all the observation is the a priori condition available to any observer.

Street photography, from that foundational attitude, also accommodates a non-judgmental exploration of any factor that can be argued is a consistent cause of the a priori conditions. Those factors represent the “natural laws” of the observed habitat and behaviors.

Variety

As part of the observer’s point of view, such causal factors normally provide topical context (conceptual perspective) to individual images. However, in street photography, those factors are not the subject of the observation but instead are the occasion. Such occasions can be highly general, such as a time of day, the weather, a social mood, or a type of event.

Street photography emphasizes the a priori nature of the habitat and behaviors to the observer. It consistently positions the observer as having arrived to the scene with the observable conditions already being predisposed by factors other than the observer’s presence. In this specific sense, street photography’s default attitude engages the scene as a theater.

In addition, the observer’s own attitude can be predisposed, evident as a sensitivity to given characteristics. In street photography, however, it is conventional for that observer’s particular predisposition to function merely as a navigational instrument in the observed habitat, which in turn may be responsible for anticipating scenes or determining the representation of a scene.

Related genres

Much of the activity and output of street photography can be indistinguishable from other types of photographic effort. For that reason, recognizing the distinction of street photography as a practice from other types of photography is done in terms of the difference of intent rather than result.

The most notable related genres having overt similarities to street photography are documentary and journalism.

Journalism, in its representation of the “observed”, brings a pronounced attention to the sequence and implications of activities in the habitat. Both the sequence and the implications are visually proposed within a span of occurrence that can be extremely short and compressed or just as easily spread over a very long period of elapsed time.

Documentary, in its representation of the “observed”, brings a pronounced attention to the “state of affairs” at a given time, with a stronger emphasis on portraying the topical context than on the observed subjects.

As just seen, the comparisons of documentary, journalism, and street modalities are not hierarchical. One is not a parent, nor a dependent, nor a subset of the other.

Instead, it is typically true that images produced in one genre may be interpreted within, and even used for, the interests of a different genre. The production can be in any phase: planned, active or completed.

 

 


Street Photography, Decoded

The popular allure of street photography rarely wanes, regardless of time or place. Much of its power to influence audiences rides on the ability to take it for granted that it will show us something we either want to see or need to see, without our having to be there. This is inescapably the most dominant factor of street photography’s success. Offered without a script, it is a natural alternative to television.

But even as major museum exhibits and art publications mark its global and historical success, it is notoriously difficult to understand what we are to expect when something is called Street Photography instead of Landscape, Reportage, or some other label.

As a result, while any street photographer has some cachet as an explorer, witness or sharpshooter, one photographer can become preferred or exalted over another based mainly on the influence of the audience. Yet, audiences are diverse at any one time and can change over time, so what today has highest public priority may not remain so, elsewhere or later.

Another key factor at work is the notion that one photographer has a more important style than another. Style is offered as the explanation for why something about the street becomes graspable. It is the visual equivalent of the composer, and the composition is the interpretation of the visible. The interpreter, of course, is the actual messenger. Since style is so often used to justify the importance of recognizing the photographer, it is all the more confusing to discover that not much more than consistent repetition reveals what style probably really is. Under pressure of popularity, style risks becoming its own subject. And increasingly, the wide variety of “styles” on display within the boundaries of a major show or portfolio of “street photography” challenges the idea that street photography is itself anything more than an opportunity to visualize things..

A third significant factor is the photographer’s own perspective. Any given perspective is generated from a point-of-view, and we intuitively look at street photography expecting an answer to the question, “so, what is your point?”… Naturally, we can depend on critical preferences forming around what, in particular, the photographer exposes to us. The photographer’s selectivity and editorialism are more specific value-generators. This is a way of saying that even if all streets are somehow interesting, some are simply more important than others to show — and further, it is more important to show the street in some ways than in others. The question here is, who gets to decide? Well, even if that attitude is marked as “subjectivity” it is still clearly a valid functional discriminator of different collections of photographs. We simply have to identify what makes something “important” at the time we are considering it. For example, if the subject is literally disappearing, then souvenirs, evidence, and nostalgia all rise in importance to audiences that found the subject desirable and would miss it when it is gone.

The interplay of the semi-heroic role of the artist, the audience’s influence, the visibility of style, and the photographer’s mindset maps out the sociological context of the displayed work — a context that can suppress or propel the recognition and appreciation of the photographer.

But photographers do not define street photography.

All flavors of Street Photography contrast mainly with studio or interior images. The essential ingredient is that the photographer is expected to be using the camera outdoors on a street, with the street clearly included in the “depiction” even if only by implication.

Streets are essentially connectors, pathways. And central to all street photography is the fact that streets are created by people. But with still pictures, the default poetic device of street photography is to turn the path into a destination, and to have the image be “about” the destination.

That notion of subject matter usually covers (a.) the street itself as a local scene, (b.) the life at (in, on) the street, or (c.) some mix of the two. We can account for why pictures look like what they look like, and what the look is attempting to do. At any time, a photographer, known or unknown, can take up the camera and produce something that we can readily position within the scope of the table below:

The rhetoric of the image projects its potential meanings in several typical ways. Each way in the following four is a range of relative affects:

  • POV is 1st-person, 2nd-person or 3rd-person
  • Depicted elements are conventional or exotic
  • Familiarity is intuitive or analytic
  • Appearances imply or resist narrative

Because those affects can be blended with each other, the image can engage its viewer with nostalgia, fiction, humor, revelation, explanation, proof, or numerous other impacts. Those results fuel demand that circumstantially translates into the attention that elevates some work and some photographers above others.

The final understanding from all of the above is that “Street Photography” refers to images that are generated from a preoccupation with the presence and influence of the street. The label itself is not a predictor of the content of any single past or future unique picture.


70’s Girls

 

 

Modeling is the opposite of mirroring. With mirroring, we catch the image shaping the subject. With modeling, we catch the subject shaping the image.

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