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The Endangered Tradition of Street Photography


The Endangered Tradition of Street Photography

January 12, 2017  |  by Bill Dobbins

By Bill Dobbins

The land of the free and the home of the homeless. Street photography allows you to capture views of the world most don’t get to see. Credit: Bill Dobbins
Venice Sunset
Out and about with a camera, keep your eye out for any interesting photo opportunity   Sometimes, like here, light and atmosphere can make for a compelling image.  Credit: Bill Dobbins
Modern street photography, catching people in public with candid images, came into it’s own in the 1930s with the introduction of the small, unobtrusive 35MM Leica.  The most famous photographer who shot these kinds of images was Henri Cartier-Bresson, who popularized the phrase “The Decisive Moment” to describe how he observed life unfolding around him and tried to snap the shutter of his Leica just at the instant that best illustrated the reality of the situation.
Big idea in a small package. After decades of being burdened by bulky equipment Leica introduced the 35MM camera creating the ability of photographers to be mobile, unobtrusive and go shoot pretty much anywhere.  Photo courtesy Leica Camera AG
His approach was to shoot with a Leica he painted black to make it less obtrusive (this was before Leica offered cameras with a black finish), a 50MM lens, no flash and printing full frame with no cropping.  A rigorous discipline, but Cartier-Bresson was the master of it.
Not many people shown in street photos of the 1840s. Lenses and emulsions were so slow and exposures to long people were only visible at all as a vague blur. Credit: Cartier-Bresson
Photographers had been doing street photographs every since the invention of the camera almost hundred years before Cartier-Bresson began his career.  But cameras back then were large and unwieldy, lenses and emulsions were slow.  So there was no way to shoot people in a really candid manner.  In fact, quite often there are no people visible in street scenes, or you only see ghostly blurs, because of the long exposure times necessary.
Protest is alive and well.
Sometimes a single image says more than a whole video news segment on TV.  Credit: Bill Dobbns
The land of the free and the home of the homeless. This is a tough country in which to be down and out. Credit: Bill Dobbins
Comuters in the evening on the bus ride home.
Bus commuters heading home after a long day. And the hunter home from the hill.  You don’t get photos like this unless you have a camera with you and ready to use. Credit: Bill Dobbins
Kimba has joint problems and gets wheeled around on his own cart. You can go out looking for street photos or always have a camera ready to use. Credit: Bill Dobbins
Since Cartier-Bresson, there have been numerous really expert photographers doing street, candid, lifestyle and journalistic photography.  Robert Frank published toured the country shooting photos of everyday life and published his images in The Americans in 1958.  William Klein prowled the streets of New York City looking for photographic opportunities.  And the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos has boasted dozens of celebrated street and journalistic photo artists among its members.
The Leica Q is a modern version of the traditional Leica that features many electronic upgrades. Credit: Leica
Fuji film’s X Pro 2 is a great street camera that is a modern evolution of the traditional rangefinder camera that features a lot of electronic bells and whistles. Credit: FujiFilm
Point and shoot cameras like the Canon G16 are small, unobtrusive and not very expensive – and they produce images of professional quality. Credit: Canon
Street photographers will prize the Leica for its small size, build quality and sharp lenses.  The Leicia M  and Q cameras carry on the tradition into the digital age.  They are, however, very expensive and there are lots of alternatives that create high quality images that are more than sufficient for the technical demands of shooting on the street.  The Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and X-T2 are among a number of cameras ideal for street photography that company has to offer. There are any number of guides to this subject to be found on the Internet.
Street and documentary photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank felt their images had great impact and involved less distraction shot in BW.  Credit: Bill Dobbins
There are still many street photographers working around the world but this seems to be a finishing niche for professionals.  There are over a billion digital photos being uploaded every day – and with so many smart phones who knows how many photos are actually shot?  Magazines like Life and Look no longer exist to pay for and publish images like this. There have been 40 billion photos uploaded to Instagram and an average of 95 million photos and videos are shared on the service every day. So the “market” for street photos has pretty much gone away.  But this is still an exciting, rewarding and revealing kind of image making to engage in.  But walking around with a camera looking for “decisive moments” – looking at everything in terms of what would make a good photos, how to crop it, what the light is like and so forth – can be exhausting. But for anyone who is fulfilled by making images this kind of photography involves very little investment or production, no cooperation from a crew and there are plenty of opportunities nowadays to communicate and share the results. If you are satisfied doing street photography for its own sake it is a great way to exercise your image making talent. Credits for photos above: Bill Dobbins Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan) Modern Amazons (Tashen)
To capture life on the street you have to have a camera ready when life happens around you. Credit: Bill Dobbins
Space Shuttle Venice Beach Flyover
Some photos require knowing in advance when and where you need to be to get the picture. Credit: Bill Dobbins
When you can’t find a cop when you need one it might be that they are all off somewhere else together. Safety in numbers. Credit: Bill Dobbins
January 12, 2017

About the Author

Bill Dobbins

Bill Dobbins

Bill Dobbins THE BODY PHOTOGAPHER became well known for his male and female physique photos - images of the aesthetic, athletic body. Using the same distinctive personal style, characterized by strong graphics and a classic look in both color and BW, Bill Dobbins has also developed a body of work featuring fashion, beauty and glamor photos In a world in which so many images create a level of "noise" that makes it hard for advertisers to be noticed, Bill's work cuts right through the confusion and grabs the eye. Bill has created two art photos books: The Women: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan) and Modern Amazons (Taschen) and his fine art work has appeared in two museums and several galleries. WEBSITES BILL DOBBINS PHOTOGRAPHY BILL DOBBINS ART THE FEMALE PHYSIQUE WEBZINE/GALLERY EMAIL:

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