A little while back my cousin sent me some quotes from Roland Barthes’ seminal Camera Lucida and asked me how those quotes resonated with me as a street photographer. Like many writers on photography, Barthes isn’t a photographer and his writings approach photography from the perspective of a viewer of photos.
As a photographer – particularly a street photographer – I find such critiques and artistic philosophies difficult to relate to. How I make a photo is a vastly different thing to how that photo is viewed much later.
Unlike artists, such as painters and sculptors and the like, us street photographers largely work in instinctive hundredths of seconds, reacting to what is happening in front of us. We don’t set things up, carefully plan out a scene or dwell on the photo much after. In fact, some of the things that occur in our photos we may not have been completely aware of at the time of clicking the shutter. It’s often those happy happenstances that elevate our street photos.
So when I read critiques on photography, especially street photography, I often find myself thinking that there’s no way much of it the photographer was thinking at the time. To write from the standpoint of a viewer, is an entirely different beast. The writer has the luxury of time to study for minutes, hours, days or even years. They look for deeper meanings and philosophies about the photo. In truth it’s about how a photo resonates with their psyche than anything the street photographer was intending.
I’m always remind of the Garry Winogrand quote when he simply explains he only took photographs to see how things looked photographed. It’s often as basic and as simple as that.
Once I’ve made the photo and its put “out there” in many ways its no longer important. It becomes the viewers photo to view and think about. I’ve already moved on to my next photo – which I talked about in a previous post about street photography being all about the hunt rather than the feast for me.
So, I never think of myself as an artist. I’m just a street photographer seeking out fleeting scenes to largely document for my own pleasure. However, that doesn’t mean street photos cannot become art – in the eyes and the thoughts of the audience they can, but that’s beyond my control really.
Do you think a street photographer can be considered an artist? Or is it the work which later can become art? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. And don’t forget, as always, you can view more of my photos on my That Darren Lehane Street Photography website.