The ultimate A-Z guide to street photography, inspired by Nokia's new camera-phone
To celebrate the rise of one of today's most important branches of photography, and to help put you in the mood for the Nokia Lumia 925 Low Light Photography Competition, we’ve put together the ultimate A-Z guide to street photography. If this gets you fired with enthusiasm, you can enter the comp right here. Up for grabs is a Nokia Lumia 925 camera phone with low-light capabilies perfect for the demands of street photography, a trip to New Zealand and a photo spread in Dazed & Confused.
A is for Atget
The very godfather of street photography, Eugène Atget set out with the intention to document old Paris before it was swept into modernisation at the end of the 19th century. A huge influence to photographers after him, Atget’s images of traders, workers and prostitutes on the streets of the French capital defined the genre’s intention of candidly capturing human activity in urban environments.
B is for Bill Cunningham
Anna Wintour says she gets dressed for Bill Cunningham, the legendary 84-year old photographer who was shooting New York street style decades before fashion bloggers laid claim to the practice. Since he first caught Greta Garbo on film by chance in the late 1970s, Cunningham has spent his whole life consistently capturing the world’s most glamorous for The New York Times.
C is for Cartier-Bresson and the candid photograph
The founding father of photojournalism, Magnum Photos, and generally one of the greatest photographers in the history of the trade, Henri Cartier-Bresson articulated the idea of The Decisive Moment in 1952 – a central tenet of candid photography and thus one of the most important principles in street photography.
D is for Daido Moriyama
No one loves a good Kodak moment more than the Japanese, so it’s only fair we included their foremost representative of the genre in this guide. Daido Moriyama, whose impressive body of work was chronicled in a dual retrospective exhibition with William Klein at London’s Tate Modern last year, has roamed the streets of Shinjuku, Tokyo for the past 50 years, capturing the weirder, darker sides of post-war life in Japan.
E is for East 100th Street
Bruce Davidson’s iconic (and long out of print) book is a staple of modern street photography and a beautiful encapsulation of what the genre is all about. For two years in the late 1960, Davidson went from door to door capturing everyday life on one of Harlem’s most impoverished blocks, resulting in a gritty, radical commentary on race relations, social injustice and inner city poverty.
F is for Flickr
In an ever-expanding sea of online photography forums, Flickr remains a reliable source of new street photography and has helped keep the genre both alive and authentic in the wake of the widespread digital transition. With over 50,000 members, the site’s Hardcore Street Photography community is one of its biggest, functioning both as a platform for showcasing new talent and a discussion forum for true enthusiasts.
G is for Garry Winogrand
The unbelievably prolific street photographer Garry Winogrand used a wide-angle lens and deer-in-the-headlight flash to capture mid-20th century American life, from everyday city scenes to phony political PR events – often to hilarious effect. Although heavily influenced by Robert Frank and Walker Evans before him, many argue Winogrand deserves the title as the true father of American street photography.
H is for Helen Levitt
Often dubbed the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time, Helen Levitt is one of the few female figures that stand out among early street photographers. Levitt was also significant in making an early, seamless transition into colour photography in the 1960s; in strong testament to her unique prowess, her work was the subject of one of the world’s first serious colour photography exhibitions at the New York MoMa in 1974.
I is for iN-Public
A collective of street photographers set up by British photographer Nick Turnpin to further the genre and showcase contemporary talent such as Matt Stuart and Gus Powell. Inspired by Meyerowitz’s Bystander (see J, below), the collective published the successful book Street Photography Now on Thames & Hudson in 2011.
J is for Joel Meyerowitz
Joel Meyerowitz worked closely with Garry Winogrand in 1970s New York and later went on to become one of the few historians of street photography, co-writing what some call the bible of the genre: Bystander: A History of Street Photography with Colin Westerbeck. He was also an early advocate of colour film and the only photographer to be granted unimpeded access to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
K is for Kodachrome
First introduced in 1935, Eastman Kodak’s Kodachrome slide film brought colour to photography, transforming the trade and sparking a whole new chapter in street photography via colour pioneers such as William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld and Luigi Ghirri.
L is for LIFE Magazine
Few magazines have helped spread photographic culture like LIFE Magazine, which commissioned and circulated some of history’s most iconic images, including Robert Capa’s D-Day images, Cartier-Bresson’s tour of China and Gerda Taro’s dispatches from the Spanish Civil War.
M is for Mobile phones
The arrival of the camera phone at the turn of the millennium revolutionised not just street photography, but the entire media industry and with it a slew of new questions concerning authorship and visual representation. As the number of people with access to high-quality photo equipment on their phone increases, the debate on whether the camera phone has killed or reinvigorated street photography rages on.
N – New York City
If Paris is the cradle of street photography, New York is the city where it came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. The city’s teeming, multicultural life and dynamic social history has inspired some of the greatest examples of street photography, from Harvey Stein’s Coney Island series to Jamel Shabazz’s shots of 1970s Brooklyn B-boys.
O is for Obsession
As the British photographer Martin Parr commented a few years ago, to be a street photographer today you need "obsession, dedication and balls". In fact, the endless wandering and unyielding persistence required to capture ‘the decisive moment’ has rendered street photography a traditionally obsessive activity.
P is for Paris
Widely accepted as the birthplace of street photography, the French capital has continued to captivate photographers ever since Eugène Atget’s first began documenting his Visions of Paris in the late 19th century. Robert Doisneau, André Kertész, Berenice Abbott and William Klein are only a few of the most important street photographers in history who have openly declared their love for the city through their work.
Q is for Questionable approaches
One of street photography’s more controversial figures, Bruce Gilden’s aggressively confrontational style has earned him both ardent admirers and harsh criticism (Joel Meyerowitz once called him a fucking bully). He uses shock tactics to get the shots he want, as shown here in a clip from Cheryl Dunn’s excellent documentary on street photography, Everybody Street.
R is for the Rangefinder camera
Leica’s popularisation of the rangefinder technology has linked the brand inextricably to the tradition of street photography. Between the 1930s and 1970s – before the arrival of the singe-lens reflex (SLR) and later autofocus technology – the lightness and efficiency of the rangefinder made it the camera of choice for photographers looking to capture fast-moving situations in difficult conditions.
S is for Street Style
Set off by Bill Cunningham, accelerated by Scott Schuman’s The Sartorialist and finally catapulted into chaotic online ubiquity by blogs like Jak & Jil and The Facehunter, street style photography has taken on a life of its own in the past decade, becoming a sort of Marmite sub-branch of street photography that continues to inspire both admiration and disdain.
T is for The Americans...
...that seminal work by Robert Frank, for which he road tripped back and forth across the United States for two years, taking more than 28,000 pictures of American life in all its shapes and forms. Along the way he met Jack Kerouac, who contributed the introduction to the original US edition.
U is for Up close and personal
As simple as the great Robert Capa once famously put it: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
V is for Vivian Maier
Street photography has countless unsung heroes, but one of its most significant heroines was the until recently unknown nanny Vivian Maier. She spent the majority of her life living and working in Chicago, where it is believed she shot the majority of the over 100,000 negatives that resurfaced after her death in 2009.
W is for William Klein
A true radical of modern photography, William Klein has never limited himself to any one style or setting, but it is in the photographs he has taken on the streets of New York and Paris throughout his long career that the raw spontaneity and experimental spirit of his work shines through most powerfully.
X is for Xoubanova
As one of the founding members of Madrid’s Blank Paper Collective, Antonio Xoubanova represents a new generation of photographers pushing street photography into new territories. A prime example is a project he shot in Madrid’s largest public park Casa de Campo, where Xoubanova forged a narrative from random encounters with people, animals and objects in this sprawling urban woodland.
Y is for Young love
Young children playing in the streets may be one of street photography’s most-depicted subjects. William Klein’s gun-pointing boys, Helen Levitt’s candids of curious children and Diane Arbus’ freak portraits of weird-looking kids are only a few of the most famous images exemplifying the genre’s romance with the spirit of youth.
Z is for Zen
More than one street photographer have quoted Zen philosophy – with its focus on intuition and geometric harmony – as an inspiration, most notably Henri Cartier-Bresson who insisted the deepest influence on his work had come from reading the German philosopher Eugene Herrigel’s Zen in The Art of Archery.
This article has been supported by the wonderful Nokia Lumia 925 – which we believe to be the best camera-phone on the planet – and one, with enhanced software, Carl Zeiss lens and effective ISO settings that shoots up to 3200, that is perfect for street photography. If this has whet your appetite for shooting the real world, grab a camera and enter Dazed & Confused's Nokia Lumia 925 Lowlight Photography Competition here. The finalists will be taking pictures with a Nokia Lumia 925 – the winners will shoot for Dazed in New Zealand.