Last time I spoke about the minefield that is defining street.

That said, I also promised to TRY and define what street means to me

The big catch to the definition of street in my view is its cross over with its foundation of reportage and documentary.

One could easily argue that street has to be a subset of reportage and documentary, because if you haven’t reported and documented, what have you done exactly? Photoshopped the characters in? Hired models, make-up, wardrobe and paid the local authorities to close your favourite narrow alleyway for the afternoon, while you set up the lights and pose the models (try explaining that to the purists 😉 )

So I’ll offer a tentative opinion here… not a work instruction, but just to share a way that I personally look at these things, that you may receive with ambivalence, hatred, vehement opposition of, or just possibly it’ll help you decide how you want to approach your own street

So, documentary vs reportage vs street.

In order to explain this, let’s temporary move the camera away from the street.

Let’s say you’ve been commissioned to take a shot, a shot of a shark eating.

But not just any shark, nope the badest shark of all – the great white.

So how would you go about this?

Well you could go to where great white sharks attack and eat seals. Set up the camera, wait until the shark attacks some poor seal, and get the shot.

This would be reportage – you have reported exactly what occurred, you haven’t influenced the shot at all, everything that’s in your image would have occurred had you not been there, all you’ve done is taken a slice of life, wild life being wild and captured it

Another way you could fulfil your brief, would be to travel to where great white sharks live. Place bait into the sea in exactly the place that your camera is set up too shoot, wait for ol’ Jaws to swim on by and you can be confident that he’ll not pass up the slab of meat you have in the water, he bites, you click and there’s your shot

Now this isn’t strictly natural is it? I mean it’s not faked, real shark, real bite, real photograph – but you’ve engineered that shot, so you’ve successfully documented what great white sharks do when they see a free meal.

Now you have two great series of shots in the bag – the honest to goodness natural shark eating shot and the really cool close up of the shark biting the bait right near the boat shot.


But then your assignment commissioner calls – can you take another shot? This one showing exactly what it means to be a great white shark.

But didn’t you do that already you ask? I got the shot of the shark eating a seal. But your editor says, great white sharks aren’t the only animals to eat seals – I need something that ONLY applies to a great white shark

But you say; I got the close up of the great white, eating the bait – ah says the editor, but many other sharks, large fish, rays and some whales could be coaxed to eat bait, I need something that says purely, only, completely Great. White. Shark.

You seek to define the true requirement:

You mean the big teeth you ask – no lots of animals have big teeth, ok then the dorsal fin, no most fish have dorsal fins, as do some whales

So what then? What makes the great white the most feared fish in the sea? Is it because it’s known to attack people? Again, there’s a few different species of shark that can attack people…

So.. what then? What.

What makes a great white the most feared fish in the sea? The answer is the fear itself. (for example you’re probably less scared of bees than you are sharks/snakes/spiders – but bees kill more people than these animals)

Without the humanistic element of mankind’s fear, the great white is merely another large predatory animal

The only way to truly show, what the shark means to humans, would be to show a human’s reaction to meeting one.

And it’s this, this singularly human view point that I think you should seek to capture when you do street.

Be that via the homeless/someone walking by an advertsing board/someone on their phone/someone smoking is entirely your call and your vision, but to my mind, for my opinion that is the extra component that separates street from pure documentary and reportage.

And that’s hard isn’t it? To document the human animal in a way that’s not just a report or a document but something singularly humanistic.

If I apply this filter to my own work it nearly always falls waaay under par.

(So don’t all write in and say I can’t even hit my own mark)

So, perhaps it’s time to clamber down from the wobbly high horse of street perfection… and instead take a little more ownership of what we actually shoot, rather than attempt to define it via standardised labels.

I’ll share my thoughts on that in the next instalment!

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One Reply to “Adam’s Street: Defining Street”

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