Street photography is a documentary style of photography that captures life as it is happening. One of the most famous street photographers is Henri Cartier Bresson who is most known for his move away from surrealism to capturing the decisive moments that he saw. Many of the most famous street photographs are monochrome images as the genre’s advancement came long before the popularisation of colour. Much contemporary street reportage however makes use of colour and shows that street photography isn’t known as a monochrome genre because it needs to be shot in black and white but because so many look only to the work, great though it is, of Cartier Bresson.
Helen Levitt, a photographer influenced in part by Cartier Bresson, [Independent Online 17/04/2009] documented the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Harlem and Yorkville. She “realised from her conversations with Cartier-Bresson that photography could be an art form itself and did not always have to be about social justice” (Ibid).
Levitt became a “pioneer of colour photography, starting seriously in 1959, when she received a Guggenheim Grant to explore her familiar territory, but shifting from black-and-white to colour” [Lens Culture Articles – Helen Levitt]
Images available as slideshow – https://www.lensculture.com/articles/helen-levitt-helen-levitt-new-york-streets-1938-to-1990s#slideshow
Paul Graham is known for his take on subverting the concept of the decisive moment with his work The Present – Pace Gallery. With his work, he wanted to invoke, “that recognition we’ve all had, in every street, in every city, that cognitive moment of seeing other lives flowing around us” (Graham, (2012), in FT Magazine.
Martin Parr’s images from recent decades tend to be strongly colour saturated images that take a view of the human species and their behaviours as groups. His street/reportage series, The Last Resort, shows New Brighton during the mid 1980’s. It can be read as both social satire of the subjects in the images and now as a socio-political commentary of Thatcherite Britain as depicted through the contrast of the working class resort juxtaposed with the news stories of the time. Parr is quoted in AnOther Magazine stating, “The thing about shooting in colour is that you see in colour. Plus, I used flash, which adds a surreal touch and somehow that makes it more real. It is hyper real, in a sense.” So though his work was a controversial ‘hyper real’ view of the working classes outside of Liverpool, that shocked, perhaps it exposes a ‘hyper real’ difference between groups / demographics that was quite pertinent to politics both then and now.
Contemporary street photography can document many of the possibilities of life. A moment or a flow, a reality that is or isn’t connected to a socially motivated need to cause change. There may be political commentary that is immediately available in the imagery or may become attached at a later date by viewers who bring their particular retrospective view or cumulative experience and value set to the work. Be the work in colour or monochrome the possibility for anything between beauty and the grotesque is real and the truth of this form of reportage is that whilst it owes a history to Cartier Bresson, contemporary street has expanded to embrace as many story telling opportunities as it authors might find.
Jobey, L, (10/Feb/2012) FT Magazine, [https://www.ft.com/content/f97e3a3a-5206-11e1-a30c-00144feabdc0 – Last Accessed ]
Lens Culture, Book Review, New York Streets 1938 – 1990s Helen Levitt, [https://www.lensculture.com/articles/helen-levitt-helen-levitt-new-york-streets-1938-to-1990s – Last Accessed – ]
Singer, O, (30/Nov/2015), AnOther Magazine, [http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8073/martin-parrs-last-resort – Last Accessed – ]
Williamson, M, (17/April/2009) Independent Online,[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/helen-levitt-photographer-renowned-for-her-portraits-of-street-life-in-new-york-1670451.html – last accessed /17]