The Paradox of Street-Photography (2)

Today I stumbled upon this interview from Alec Soth, that was mentioned by Bryan Formhals in HCSP Flickr group.

The excerpt Bryan has put on Flickr is really interesting. Here it is:

CL: With the ubiquity of Facebook, sites like Flickr, and smartphones with cameras, everyone’s an amateur photographer. Where does the fine art photographer sit in that context?

AS: It does change things.

CL: I’m asking because you said you have to work a long time before you realize the photographs you’re taking are being informed by a lot of other people and tradition. Now that we see so many photographs, do you think that will change the way photographs are taken? Will it make things seem more fresh, less fresh? You know what I mean?

AS: Yeah, I know what you mean. I really don’t know. It’s radical because I’m a young guy—40 is not that old—but all of my photographic education was pre-Internet. The resources are so vastly different now. It’s hard for me to know how that shapes a person.

That said, what I feel for myself going forward, is that, more than ever, it makes the individual image less interesting.

CL: You mean portraits or something else?

AS: No, I mean the singular photograph. Magnum has existed on iconic images—James Dean walking down Times Square—

CL: —the Afghani girl with the blue eyes—

AS: Yes, exactly. That pic gets picked up by these magazines, and it becomes an icon. That was how it worked. Now those pictures are made with someone’s cell-phone camera, and they’re so random. It doesn’t seem like an achievable goal anymore. Moreover, it’s not that interesting to me. It’s as fleeting as a viral YouTube sensation. What matters to me is authorship. It’s the photo book. For someone else, it might be the 10-minute online presentation, but it’s putting pictures together in a really meaningful way. That’s the only thing that matters to me.

Being a photographer is nothing. It’s like it’s anyone, it’s everyone, it’s nothing. Authorship—assembling a group of pictures meaningfully is incredibly rare.

see here on HCSP:

First on a side note about “iconic photographs”. I tend to think it has become a deprecated concept. Not that iconic photographs do not exist anymore, but unlike how they used to work in the past they tend to be actually counter-productive, probably because people are more and more desensitized, and over-critical. So the very result of most iconic photographs produced lately by photojournalism is at best endless (often on-line) debates and controversy that inhibits the very idea of a photograph being iconic. I believe that silence and/or emotion should be the proper response to an “iconic photograph”, and that is not the case anymore with people jumping on how/why etc… such pics were made. But maybe I am just old-fashioned.

Now what really caught my attention in this Soth interview is that it is very in line with what I wrote recently about the Paradox of Street Photography, at least some aspect of it and what I wanted to express (although probably in a less clear and straight-forward way that Soth does)

Lots of street photographers (including myself) tend to be “trophy-maker”. They (we) come up with “big shots” and put the rest on the trash. I think there is nothing wrong with that – and it is somewhat in the gene of the SP tradition, i.e. to heavily edit one’s portfolio and only show the best work. This “trophy-making” syndrome is quite reflected and emphasized in today’s SP community, through Flickr groups and so on…

The point is: “trophy making” is kind of part of the SP process (or tradition) much more than with other genres. But I believe there is a huge limitation in that process. One of the very problem is that you can’t articulate your own (effort towards) authorship properly if you are too much obsessed with making / exhibiting just big shots. Fair enough if you don’t care about authorship, but I think this is one of the very reason why SP is that disdained today, whatever good “trophy” books can be produced on the genre. By the way I’ll be interested in hearing how people who do SP editing / curating works think about that (*). I consider myself not to be very imaginative on that field – maybe because I am of the pre-internet generation, just like Soth is – and finally I am rather fond of books over other forms of photography work presentation.

(*) I might contact Bryan Formhals for an interview about that, because he looks like a smart guy doing lots of efforts in curating (better said: renewing the idea of curating) and is very involved in SP.


Speaking of books I am currently working on another Blurb book that I am striving to include some of the idea above, in an effort to reach a better level of authorship. This will be rather different than my previous book about Boston and one of the conscious characteristic of that book is that it will feature work made in a very short time lapse – as opposed to filtering out “big shots” whose capture spans through several months or years.

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