The Street Photography AudienceMay 17, 2019
“Photos don’t exist without other peoples’ eyes” Interesting words from photographer John Sevigny on the always thought provoking United Nations of Photography podcast with Grant Scott.
For sure there are times that photographs are personal, for me only, but listening to this podcast was one of those moments that I pulled over the car, got out my pad and pencil to scribble down the words above. I think I agree - an audience is required.
Because street photography is not particularly commercial, certainly in respect of print sales compared with landscape or fine art, the audience is, I think, narrower. Even more so when eliminating documentary photography which is so often clubbed in with the genre.
It has made me think about who the audience is specifically for street photography. Is it just other street photographers? And then how to broaden it - that would seem the logical progression of “other peoples’ eyes” being a crucial thing for the existence of the image. This week I visited Photo London at Somerset House, street photography does feature noticeably, but then if the large number of Fujifilm X100s and Leica Ms are anything to go by, street photographers were very well represented among the attendees. Most of my traceable website visits certainly seem to be from other street photographers, through social media or searches for street photography equipment.
Contradicting perhaps my previous article on Instagram being bad for photography, whilst amateur or recreational photographers’ images used to be for ourselves, families and friends, they are now for everyone or at least a much wider community.
Historically you would only see the photography of famous or well known professional photographers; hobbyists work would be as good as invisible. And now of course even with a few hundred followers, my images are widely seen - probably more so than had they been exhibited in a local café or library a decade ago.
So an audience, albeit a niche one for street photography, does exist. And I think it is the documentary nature inherent with street photography that will draw a larger audience over time.
I think street photography, or people photography as I still call it, is important in its own right. While a set of documentary images tells a vital story or brings awareness to a situation, the broader body of street photography continues to write a history in pictures of the time and the people - completely aside from any artistic appeal. I photograph because people interest me and faces, situations and interactions tell a little story, imagined or real.
Almost like other people’s snapshots - in some ways these photos are no different to family snapshots, just grabbing a memory or reminding you of a situation or person, you just make more assumptions the less you know about the person or situation.
I think it will be a large body of street photography, tiny contributions by a colossal number of photographers, that will make up this future archive, rather than significant contributions by a few as has happened in the past. Whilst modern day masters have and will continue to emerge, maybe this is the perfect example of democratisation of photography.