The history of the pathway, the street, and the scenes they often lead to is a storied one. The trail is not so much a physical thing as an ephemeral one, a place in our collective imagination. Picture if you will, the most populated space in your town or city, it’s energy, its culture. Picture the roads leading there, the square or congregating spaces. Where does the street begin and truly end and must it be populated by bodies to tell us something about our selves?
Culture is a thing that arrives when two or more beings interact in some kind of space, virtual, conceptual, or actual. The street is where we decide how to be with one another. We negotiate those we have yet to meet, and before we know it, culture and civilization has emerged. Even mostly empty spaces reverberate with our history, our intentions and our energy through structures or the smallest markings.
The street occupies an ample space in our psyche. We are “hot on the trail” or “picking up where the trail went cold” both in imagined and in real ways in the material sense and as an allegory for the winding ways which weave our lives — all leading to a scene. Street views and the word on the street fill our imaginations. We are a part of the street, and we are the observer. We are all lost in the crowd at some point, even if we live in the country off the beaten path. Everyone sees themselves as separate from it and yet we are most often a node in the rabble for other observers. Buildings speak to us about ourselves and the streets surrounding them supply the arteries for our common space and the in-between states of our lives where we dream and act together.
Tales of the road, the mundane and the frantic, and the documenting of that adventure is as old as our ability to tell the story. We have been painting the action on the street since the invention of caves.
In the 16 century Venetian Painting by Vittore Carpaccio “The Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge”, we get a window unto a very different but unmistakably familiar place and scene. One asks questions. Why all the congregating? Who are these people? Who would I be here? The imagination runs in as many directions as the paths leading to these environments.
Street photography emerged as fast as the photograph. With it we dare to look at ourselves and others without posture and in the raw. The anonymous voyeur who captures a moment is a poet. The street photographer is the kind of poet who holds up a mirror and makes a cast of light. We snap shots of humanity in its vulnerable repose.
For those among us who see the beauty in the human drama, street photography is a perfect occupation.
What is street photography in an era where everyone is capturing the action and the action seems to never stop? In many ways, we can be more discreet now. The camera is ubiquitous with our devices, and raising it to our eye level is no more intrusive than blinking.
Carrying a proper camera is slightly more novel than a computer phone. The act of heading into the world with the express interest in capturing a moment on the street is still a unique activity. It is a special one.
How do we both set out to find and then step into the poetic moment, gain an understanding of the forces at work producing it, and become a channel for capturing the essence of something unique?
Street photography is the act of capturing the landscape of our lives and the lives of others. These others are often both familiar and disturbingly alien.