“Street Photography Now” by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren. Published: 2012/Thames & Hudson; 301 photos in black and white and color; paperback/240 pages.
OK, I know: “street photography” has a long and distinguished history to it. Eugene Atget, Brassaï, Robert Frank and Elliott Erwitt are just a few of the names recognized as its most astute practitioners, with Cartier-Bresson (“the decisive moment”) pretty much universally recognized as the Michael Jordan of the genre. But I also have to admit my bias. As a former commercial photographer, and later as a specialist in the stock photography field, where control and perfection were key elements in producing imagery that would satisfy client needs, I often saw “street photography” as an easy out for shooters who were too lazy to learn the finer points of composition and lighting. And, while even in this otherwise deeply engaging book I can point to some images that seem mundane or poorly crafted, for the most part “Street Photography Now” succeeds in illustrating both the vibrancy and relevancy of today’s street specialists (as the authors point out in their introduction, “Street photography has undergone a resurgence. Flickr hosts over 400 dedicated street photography groups comprising nearly half a million members.”).
While China certainly appears to be the flavor-of-the-month destination for many street shooters, the locations captured in Howarth and McLaren’s book reinforce the concept that we reside in a global village which not only invites but almost demands to be photographed, whether in Sydney, Hamburg, New York or Durban. No state, no matter how aggressively it attempts to control its media, seems immune from the probing lens of the street photographer, even in places like Cuba or Russia.
And subject matter? Hey, it’s the streets so anything goes, but people dominate over things, and there seem to be two divergent schools of thought (or seeing) at work here: one brand of street shooter likes to move in for the close-up, while the other group favors keeping a safe distance from their subjects. For example, while both Bruce Gilden and Trent Parke work in black and white, Gilden brings a Diane Arbus-like claustrophobic sensibility to his in-your-face portraits of his fellow New Yorkers, while Aussie Parke generally hangs back and often allows for more “breathing space” around the frame. Similarly, London’s Polly Braden has spent over 15 years filling frames with color imagery that documents the transformation of China from collectivism to capitalism, with all the extremes and contradictions that implies (one extraordinary image, nicely displayed over a page and a third, is a night scene that beautifully captures an aged woman who most likely grew up under Mao passing by a window display of lavish wedding gowns that would probably have The Chairman rolling in his grave); Frenchman Thierry Girard has also made the world’s most populous country one of his prime subjects, but with far different results: he works in a far more deliberate manner necessitated by shooting the streets with a tripod-mounted medium format camera, with results that are more detached than Braden’s but no less fascinating.
For my money, the best of the street photography is that which coveys humorous or startling moments and juxtapositions. That, after all, truly seems to be the raison d’etre of the street photographer: to capture those quirky moments that most of us miss as we carry on with our “normal” days and remind us of what we’re missing. Howarth and McLaren state that “..humor has long formed as valid a part of the lexicon of street photography as more earnest social documentary.” And thus we have Maciej Dakowicz’s Cardiff party people enjoying late night snacks while surrounded by a sea of refuse; Melanie Einzig’s dude in an outrageous yellow get-up who seems engrossed in his knitting while taking the 6 train in New York (and, since it’s NYC, no one takes notice); David Gibson’s billboard worker on a ladder who appears to be unabashedly stimulating a female breast with his brush-on-a-stick; Nils Jorgensen’s London bus passenger having a stare-down contest with a passing transit ad; and Jeff Mermelstein’s knees-down perspective on a woman apparently taking her pet iguana for a walk (Really? REALLY?).
There is no question that many of the images in “Street Photography Now” leave us to guess what’s going on and make up our own stories. As Trent Parke says, “My photographs are more questions than answers.” Not all street photography succeeds, of course, because of necessity it requires giving up that control aspect that I’ve always valued in my own photography and instead relying upon gut instincts, cat-like reactions and a healthy dose of serendipity. New York’s Markus Hartel perhaps said it best: “Street photography is like gambling. You get lucky or you get nothing.” Count yourself lucky if you get a hold of a copy of this compelling survey of photographic life on the streets.
reviewed by phh
“Reuters: Our World Now 5.” Publisher: Thames & Hudson (2012). 320 pages, 332 color images.
I am an unabashed news junkie. I grew up at a time when they still showed newsreels prior to the feature at the movies (quant, eh?). That, along with experiencing major televised historical moments like the JFK assassination aftermath, the landing of the first man on the moon and the Watergate hearings have made me a natural consumer of such 24/7 news networks as CNN and MSNBC.
But, my developing years were also a time when newspapers (yes, the paper version) still reigned. As a teen I developed the habit of devouring both the morning and afternoon papers in my hometown of Milwaukee (they actually published TWO different papers back in those days…also a quant concept in the 21st century) and we were lucky: both papers had exceptional staff photographers who were given ample space to display their creations.
For those of us addicted to the rush of both current events and eye-stopping photography, then, books like “Reuters Our World 5” are a treasure. This compilation of international photojournalism visually summarizes a truly amazing year, 2011: twelve months that included the Arab Spring, devastating earthquakes and an ensuing tsunami in Japan, the Occupy movement, riots in London and continuing global financial crisis as well as the “normal” plethora of scandals, births and deaths.
The beauty of this book is multilayered: first and foremost, its layout truly does justice to the photos, with most covering a full page and many extended across the gutter to a second page as well. In addition, since editorial images without context don’t tell the full story, the images are divided by calendar quarter, and then further sub-divided into smaller sections that culminate in single pages containing both caption data and thumbnails so you don’t have to keep flipping back to previous pages. This logical design makes it easy to spend as much or as little time with “Our World 5” as you care to in single sittings.
And the photographs themselves? Powerful…passionate…and in many cases just plain gutsy. I can’t tell you how many times I had to stop and say to myself, “Who in their right mind is out there photographing this stuff?” Although “Our World 5” contains a few human interest-type images (the Prince William – Kate Middleton wedding, spectators at the British Open golf tournament, a man sleeping at a trade fair in Berlin, etc.), the overwhelming majority of pictures were generated under circumstances that represent the sorrier side of the human condition: war, protest, famine and civil unrest. The debt of gratitude that we owe to the photographers who, in many cases, bravely put their own lives on the line to make these photos is enormous, and they reinforce the fact that single images, even in an Internet/cable TV/YouTube world, still pack enormous power. To wit:
Serbian photographer Goran Tomasevic’s arresting image of anti-Gaddafi troops diving for cover as shrapnel lands just feet away from both them and Tomasevic.
Khaled Abdullah’s monochromatic photo of a woman clad entirely in black and protesting for human rights in Yemen.
A bloodied demonstrator in Athens being restrained by a Darth Vader-like cop in John Kolesidis’ claustrophobic close-up.
Eric Thayer’s eerie capture of a plane flying through the Tribute in Light memorial on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York.
The heart-stopping image by Nodas Stylianidis of a man setting himself on fire outside a bank in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.
Since American newspapers seem to be dominated by AP and Getty for their images, the chances are most if not all of the photos in “Reuters Our World Now 5” will be new to you. This “freshness factor” only adds to what is an already highly enticing homage to 21st century photojournalism.
reviewed by phh
“Art Without Compromise*” by Wendy Richmond.Publisher: Allworth Press (2009).
Crawling out from under the worst financial environment since 1929, it would be entirely understandable if photographers, illustrators and other creative-types spent their precious reading time, should they be lucky enough to actually have any, diving into books dedicated to business survival strategies, or perhaps technical tomes that could help them rise above their competitors by acquiring heightened skills within their craft.Nonetheless, I would heartily recommend Art Without Compromise* (and don’t ask my why there is an asterisk at the end of the title; since it was written by an artist, just chalk it up to creative license) as an antidote to all the grim front-page news and subsequent forced-operation in survival mode that many creatives have found themselves in over the past couple of years.
uthor Wendy Richmond, a Communication Arts columnist since 1984, as well as a teacher, artist and media observer, has put together a thought-proving, insightful compendium of extremely brief essays which, in total, are a collective call to arms for the creative process as well as concise commentary on 21st century technology and attitudes toward both art and artists.And, because no single essay exceeds 5 or 6 pages (most are only two or three pages), you can easily snatch her book off the shelf and devour an essay or two in one of the many “in-between spaces” she describes in the essay titled “Killing Time”:
“In our twenty-first century society, most of us have lives that consist of densely packed activities.We do so many things in different locations with different people (even when we are just sitting at our computers) that we have created a by-product: innumerable ‘in-between’ spaces of time.They are the gaps that exist between finishing one thing and starting the next.These gaps are typically short and unpredictable in length: empty moments that, for the most part, simply require us to wait.But we never simply ‘wait’, do we? Because we are a hyperactive, hyperconsumptive society, we have to be busy, productive and entertained, even during the in-betweens.”
Richmond is an unabashed proponent of the value of the creative process itself.Thus, one of the book’s values is its encouragement for artistic professionals to welcome the “unknown” (which stimulates curiosity), rid themselves of both internal and external editors, make room for serendipity, and strive for some degree of recapturing a time, perhaps experienced only early-on in the professional lives of numerous artists, when work and play was seamless. There may be more than a few working pros who could use one of Richmond’s “excitement meters: an internal gauge, an indicator of what I find interesting and positive and worth pursuing.”
Although Richmond’s book is not about photography per se, there is nonetheless much within its pages that touches on the creation, effects and applications of both moving and still pictures, since the author has extensive history working with both, though often in a somewhat non-traditional photography context.For example, she discusses the growing pervasiveness of surveillance cameras, and in “Framing Video” states that “on a surveillance camera, everyone looks guilty,” and later in that same essay says: “More and more, video is becoming the basis by which people learn and then determine what is the ‘truth.’ Over the years, video has been like a chameleon, literally changing its colors in an effort to be viewed as ‘real.’Because we no longer trust anything too slick, we have been given a whole genre of television ads, news, and reality television shows that use low production value and appear (or at least pretend) to be unscripted and unedited.Low quality equals high authenticity.”
ven non-creative professionals will find many of the essays in Art Without Compromise* engaging, but especially enjoyable and stimulating are the chapters “Questioning the Tools” and “The Twenty-First Century Landscape,” both of which offer up enlightened opinions on such topics as computers, iPods, cell phones and the post-9/11 trend towards Big Brotherism.Addressing the plague of our times, the self-absorbed cell phone user (“Private Talk in Public Places”), Richmond observes: “Perhaps when you see only one half of the conversation, that person seems to be committing a greater breach of public space.The tone of a cell phone voice is distinctive.It is a little bit louder, and it is self-privileging.It implies a lack of civility…The lack of awareness of one’s immediate surroundings is benign when it’s confined to a private place.But take it out in public and it enrages those who witness it.”
Chances are that most readers will never meet Wendy Richmond in person; my guess, however, is that after finishing Art Without Compromise* they’ll want to, and the ensuing conversation will be anything but boring.