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History of Street Photography

Started by nadimpr, April 25, 2017, 10:34:23 AM

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History of Street Photography

Depictions of everyday public life form a genre in almost every period of world art, beginning in the pre-historic, Sumerian, Egyptian and early Buddhist art periods. Art dealing with the life of the street, whether within views of cityscapes, or as the dominant motif, appears in the West in the canon of the Northern Renaissance, Baroque, Roccoco, of Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. With the type having been so long established in other media, it followed that photographers would also pursue the subject as soon as technology enabled them.

Louis Daguerre: "Boulevard du
Temple" (1838 or 1839)

Nineteenth-century precursors

In 1838 or 1839 the first photograph of figures in the street was recorded by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in one of a pair of daguerreotype views taken from his studio window of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. The second, made at the height of the day shows an unpopulated stretch of street, while the other was taken at approximately 8:00 am, and as Beaumont Newhall reports, "The Boulevard, so constantly filled with a moving throng of pedestrians and carriages was perfectly solitary, except an individual who was having his boots brushed. His feet were compelled of course, of course, to be stationary for some time, one being on the box of the boot black, and the other on the ground. Consequently his boots and legs were well defined, but he is without body or head, because these were in motion."

Charles Nègre was the first photographer to achieve the technical sophistication required to register people in movement on the street in Paris in 1851. Eugene Atget is regarded as a progenitor, not because he was the first of his kind, but as a result of the popularisation in the late 1920s of his record of Parisian streets by Berenice Abbott, who was inspired to undertake a similar documentation of New York City. As the city developed, Atget helped to promote Parisian streets as a worthy subject for photography. From the 1890s to the 1920s he photographed mainly its architecture, stairs, gardens, and windows. He did photograph some workers but people were not his main focus.

John Thomson, a Scotsman working with journalist and social activist Adolphe Smith, published Street Life in London (1877) prior to Atget. Thomson played a key role in making the capture of everyday life on the streets a significant role for the medium.

Twentieth-century practitioners
United Kingdom

Paul Martin is considered a pioneer, making candid unposed photographs of people in London and at the seaside in the late 19th and early 20th century in order to record life. Martin is the first recorded photographer to do so in London with a disguised camera.

Mass-Observation was a social research organisation founded in 1937 which aimed to record everyday life in Britain and to record the reactions of the 'man-in-the-street' to King Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson, and the succession of George VI. Humphrey Spender made photographs on the streets of the northern English industrial town of Bolton, identified for the project's publications as "Yorktown", while filmmaker Humphrey Jennings made a cinematic record in London for a parallel branch of investigation. The chief Mass-Observationists were anthropologist Tom Harrisson in Bolton and poet Charles Madge in London, and their first report was produced as the book "May the Twelfth: Mass-Observation Day-Surveys 1937 by over two hundred observers"

Alfred Stieglitz: "The Terminal" (1892)

Individual approaches in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries

Inspired by Frank, in the 1960s Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Joel Meyerowitz began photographing on the streets of New York. Phil Coomes, writing for BBC News in 2013, said "For those of us interested in street photography there are a few names that stand out and one of those is Garry Winogrand"; critic Sean O'Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said "In the 1960s and 70s, he defined street photography as an attitude as well as a style – and it has laboured in his shadow ever since, so definitive are his photographs of New York."

Returning to the UK in 1965 from the US where he had met Winogrand and adopted street photography, Tony Ray-Jones turned a wry eye on often surreal groupings of British people on their holidays or participating in festivals. The acerbic comic vein of Ray-Jones' high-contrast monochromes, which before his premature death were popularised by Creative Camera (for which he conducted an interview with Brassai), is mined more recently by Martin Parr in hyper-saturated colour.

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