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Art Movement in Focus: Street Photography – An Introduction

Welcome to Art Movement in Focus! In this section, we explore significant art movements in history through a series of articles dedicated to each movement. Here’s looking at Street Photography.

Street Photography – An Introduction

Photography as a genre remains one of the most popular forms of expression, it captures a fleeting moment. And sometimes a moment is staged to project a thought or idea. It is a vast field of possibilities.

Street Photography is the polaroid version of a Canon, let’s just say. Perched on being spontaneous. It is a way to record everyday life. The idea is to take candid pictures. These pictures may not set out with a social purpose in mind but eventually, the documentation definitely leads to the building up of a body of work.

This genre specifically records life in public spaces. This very ‘publicness’ of the setting allows the photographer to take real images.

Importantly, Street Photography emerged as a genre as a direct result of advances in camera technology. It’s relationship with a hand-held 35mm SLR camera is exclusive. The emergence of a compact Leica lens, and its superior lens quality aided this.

The advent of the superior iPhones was a game changer. It was not just SLR or digital – but hundreds and thousands of images can be stored and shared. The processing of the images too don’t need a desktop. There is always post-production work involved for an artist, but it is now available in a compact variant.

The latter-day Street Photographer is typically possessed of a particular attitude; someone who sees their art as a calling or vocation. Street Photography is as much about a “state of mind” and a Street Photographer is someone who tends to treat their camera as a constant companion.

One of the conversations around Street Photography especially is regarding its journalistic potential. This is owing to the strong lineage to documentary. Artists from this genre want audiences to think deeply about the meanings behind the images they produce.

At The Heart of Street Photography

The first images to exemplify street photography were those produced by French photographer Charles Nègre. He documented architecture as well as shops, labourers, traveling musicians, peddlers, and unusual cityscapes in the 1850s.

Owing to the comparatively primitive technology available to him, and the long exposure time required, snapshots were impossible. It was difficult to capture the hustle and bustle of the Paris streets. He con1939tinued to experiment with a series of photographic methods, trying to find one that would allow him to capture movement without a blur. Finally, success came with the calotype, patented in 18041 by William Henry Fox Talbot.

The calotype could capture an image in one minute, with efficiency. In comparison to the 15 to 30 minutes required for a daguerreotype. Some of Nègre’s photographs were staged to evoke action, and some occasionally included accidents—a blur of a figure moving across the composition. Those accidents serve as some of the earliest examples of movement captured in the still image, an expression of the energy of the street.

OUR TOP 6 Artists for Street Photography

  1. Henri-Cartier Bresson (1908-2004)
  2. Saul Leiter (1923-2013)
  3. Helen Levitt (1913-2009)
  4. Diane Arbus(1923-1971)
  5. Jill Freedman (1939 – 2019)
  6. Vivian Maier (1926-2009)


Henri-Cartier Bresson
Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall, 1963, Henri-Cartier Bresson (1908-2004)
Image courtesy:

Saul Leiter

Snow, 1960, Saul Leiter  (1923-2013)
Image courtesy: Saul Leiter Foundation/Gallery Fifty-One

Helen Levitt
Untitled (Two boys engrossed in bubble making)

Untitled ( two boys engrossed) 1972, Helen Levitt (1913-2009)
Image courtesy:

Diane Arbus
Woman with Parcels

Woman with Parcels, NYC, Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Image courtesy:

Jill Freedman
Two Firefighters

Two Firefighters (1976), Jill Freedman (1939 – 2019)
Image courtesy:

Vivian Maier
December 21, 1961. Chicago, IL

December 21, 1961. Chicago, IL, Vivian Maier (1926-2009)
Image Courtesy:

For more such quick introductions and lists regarding Art History, visit Art Movement in Focus.

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