This isn’t “Humans of New York,” it’s humans of the world. People living every minute of a clock’s tick, a step above the law, a season below the weather. In the spirit of the inner-city or among the glass homes of suburbia. In a way that feels right to them and un-casual to us while becoming the collective character that encompasses the make-up of being alive.
Street photographers are documenters of urban and rural society. They travel the world with wandering eyes and intrusive cameras but are not looking for family photos per se. They’re looking for families of happenstance. Gathering an unending collection of moments that slip into eras not thought to be definitive in their time. They capture style, labor, crisis, monotony, color. The act of migration and what it means to look under America’s rug. The type of person that freezes life on the street isn’t looking to exploit the individual, he is looking to tell a truth.
I want to introduce you to a few people I admire. Folks that have been as influential in death as they were alive and folks that are still kicking and moving forward with their craft. Within my choices are both film and photobooks.
“Everybody Street,” a film by Cheryl Dunn, capitalizes on what raw dedication to craft looks like. Every photographer mentioned is worth researching for pleasure. They fetishize about the film negative, argue about going digital and keep their cameras aimed at life even with risk of attack. It is also one of the last documented videos of Mary Ellen Mark before passing away in 2015. A notable mention goes to Martha Cooper, a legend in the graffiti world. All in all, this film is an excellent introduction to the craft.
Jim Goldberg’s “Raised by Wolves” chronicles runaways in the same way Mary Ellen Mark documents the life of adult-children in the film and book “Streetwise.” However, the look and feel of the content present is different: Raised by wolves reads more like a literary scrapbook of waywardness and Streetwise is the book you hand to children when they haven’t a clue about life. If I were to extract a tale from the collective pieces it would be that fragility is a child without a home for understanding. From San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington we’re given content that represents a slice of youth most of us are fortunate to grow out of.
Vivian Maier will forever remain an enigma. What drove her to shoot to the degree that she did is lost thanks to her discovery posthumously, yet her name is ever growing. The exposure she receives in print and on screen is further magnified in person via the Howard Greenberg Gallery Of New York. For anyone that has watched or plans to watch “Finding Vivian Maier,” I promise her story will latch onto a branch of you mind. My favorite release of her work is “Vivian Maier: A photographer found.”
Garry Winogrand’s “The Man in the Crowd” is a photographic collage of thirty plus years on the street. A man whose nature defined street photography in New York, Winograd died too young and, like Vivian Maier, his unprocessed work was left to our eyes for interpretation, respect and use as a teaching tool for progression.
When I think about Bruce Davidson ‘s “Subway” I have to agree with Pete Rock who said, “I guess time’s changed since the subway train”. This book is a throwback to trains and its commuters of late 1970’s early 80 New York. The graffiti hand-styles, the eruption of B-Boy and punk trends, new wave and the end of disco are captured along with the grease and grit of people. While the subway photo reached normalcy in the digital world of today, you can’t replicate a time before the Reagan era and Broken Windows. Andre Wagner has recently released a book of black and white photos, Here for the Ride, that covers a three year period spent on the New York transit line. While I won’t compare the two I will suggest the ownership of both as they are staples of time.
Jamel Shabazz. Everything he captures should be studied by fashion students looking into yesteryears for support. His work, while not as candid as earlier mentions, “Back in the Days” is the nostalgic piece you flip through while waiting for dinner. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or how far removed from the past you might be, this book is worth time spent.
WeeGee. If you’ve seen the film “Nightcrawler” then you’ve watched inspiration unfold. Weegee was the guy who never needed rules. He saw an opportunity, took it by the reins and didn’t wait for society’s approval of his craft. He chased scenes of trauma mostly at night. He knew what made a story important and what it meant to reveal what was once private in higher society. Check out “Naked City” and “Weegee’s World” for content that changed the way we approach news.
I could not and should not finish this piece without mention of Bresson. Henri Catier-Bresson was the godfather of street photography and the decisive moment himself. The teacher of composition through the viewfinder and from the hip. So much is attributed to him. “Henri Cartier Bresson: a biography” is an in-depth look at his history and theory. Whelp, it’s time for the shameless plug: I myself am an urban documentarian. When time allows, I spend anywhere from three to ten hours walking the streets of Toledo, Chicago, New York City and Detroit. I share the same desires as the people mentioned and am willing to do just as much as they would to get the shot. Dedication can alienate you. It can separate you from simple things like family and friendship in the off chance you may miss a shot. I applaud anyone that takes this field head on as it isn’t pretty. Photoshop has no place nor does a weak heart. You’re as exposed as the people you capture and if you can’t respect that then you shouldn’t shoot on the street.