I believe there is no specific characteristic that a street-shot should have to be successful. And it happens very often that a good shot has nothing special in the first place but it just “works”, because of a peculiar disposition of the elements and a strong vision from the photographer. But when it comes to analyze street-shots there are some recurring features that the experienced viewers are looking for. So I will try to write a little about that.
One of the very thing that street-photogs are looking for is what is called “juxtaposition”. What is it all about ? To put it simply a juxtaposition is a cohesive relationship between 2 (or more) single elements within a frame of a photograph. And what makes it work (or not) is the quality of the relationship or the tension (which is a special sort of relationship). Juxtaposition can also be referred as “multiple-layers”, which leads to a “story”, or a graphical/compositional interest. But in both cases what we have to look for, or analyze is the cohesiveness and the strength of the relationship or tension, with regards to the shooting situation and its technical circumstances.
Juxtapositions can be of various forms, involve various aspects, such as:
- people’s expression and body language
- social aspects, generational aspects …
- “semantic” i.e. associating elements that belong to the same idea.
- writings (e.g. from billboards or any street signs)
- shapes and patterns
Also juxtaposition can set a mood, which can range from humorous to tragic. Also sometimes it might serve some social or political commentary.
So, here are few examples, from my Portfolio.
Simple juxtaposition with poster. Old lady and Robot-girls
Not an easily defined juxtaposition, mixed of body language and semantic. I like this one a lot…
Disabled man looking at beautiful girls, a juxtaposition involving some social commentary.
Young girl with friendly expression at the funny dog, as opposed to rather harsh political message. A somewhat absurd juxtaposition.
Achieving juxtaposition in the street is relatively easy, because there are lots of information in the street. One of the very common practice is to use billboard and posters, together with people nearby. There are loads of such images. But I believe most of the time these juxtapositions are weak. A good word to qualify those shots is “visual pun” rather than genuine juxtaposition because it is mere criss-cross of elements, with weak relation.
An example from my PF is this one (which I know is appreciated though), but that I find representative of the “visual pun” category (I have lots of such pics)
There is no serendipity here, I just had to wait for somebody to pass. And it is important to note that serendipity and unlikeness has a lot to do with successful juxtaposition, as opposed to shots that can be prepared to one extent. And finally this picture is a mere graphical situation, with no strong relation other than graphical between the passing lady and the fake Chaplin. An element which I find interesting here is the second fake character on left who looks like saluting the photog/viewer. This rises the picture little higher than basic visual pun.
Negative (or absurd) Juxtaposition
I believe it is a very interesting (and difficult) idea of juxtaposition.
It is about the association of disparate elements in the purpose of a strong tension, or to serve a possible idea or concept, or to question the viewer. This sort of juxtaposition is likely to be found in staged photography rather than street.
Road stripes, Work cone and legs.
Juxtaposition can be one-dimensional, i.e. involves a single relationship between 2 elements. But it can be multi-dimensional as well, involving more than 2 elements. Also sometimes you can have more than just 1 juxtaposition in a single picture. Needless to say that multiple juxtapositions can be of great interest… but also challenging for the photographer for it requires lots of luck as well as compositional skills to makes complex things clear enough. They are challenging for the viewer as well, since more than often we are looking for a single subject-matter in photographs …
Here is an example of multiple and complex juxtapositions:
- “On red” sign / red painting / red traffic light (a 3-elements juxtaposition in itself…)
- “Black& white” writings on the poster (click for larger view) / red information
- People that stands still viewed from rear, as opposed to the painter working viewed from back (also people in black/painter in white)