Coursework, Part 1 - The photograph as document, Project 3 - Reportage

Project 3 – Contemporary street photography

Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.

Black and white was firstly used in photography due to technical aspects which has since been developed. It took a long time before colour photography was explored in the 1950s. Even then, black and white still remains many street photographers choice of outcome. In photography, documentary is one of the oldest genres. Many photographers who have an interest in street photography, try to replicate the look of famous work by Henri-Cartier Bresson.

What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

Colour can play an important part in street photography, depending on the story the photographer and image wants to tell. Some images would not make any sense if it was to be in black and white. It is important however, for the colour to be part of the story and not a distraction, it should not overpower the overall image. If the colour of an image is a distraction from the main component of the image, then black and white would be more sufficient. Colour photography can also contribute to the time and place of the image, for example the feeling of seasons and time of day. This could be from the warm oranges of golden hour to cool blue tones.

Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work?)

In the Oxford dictionary, surrealism is defined as ‘a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images’. Man Ray is an early surrealist photographer. His most famous work combined techniques which were considered non-traditional with surrealist principles. By doing this, Ray was able to create photographs which bridged the gap between truthful photographs and otherworldly dreams.

Robert Capa is a Hungarian-born American photographer. Capa is most famous for his black and white war photographs. He is primarily known for his black and white work. However, after World War 2 he got more involved in colour photography. His most phrase is “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. Although Capa’s images were not thought as “technically” good they were full of intimacy as he would get close to his subjects. His bravery on the front lines helped him to capture intense war images.

However, Joel Meyerowitz likes to use colour in his street photography and has taken a lot of criticism for it. Meyerowitz is an American street, portrait and landscape photographer. He began using colour in his photography in 1962 when many others had a resistance to using colour. Meyerowitz followed Henri Cartier-Bresson’s lead on street photography by seizing the moment. What was more striking about Meyerowitz work though was the fact it was all in colour. He believed there was a huge prejudice against the use of colour in photography. He recalls people thinking black and white can only be used to create an aesthetic look. However for Meyerowitz colour was essential in his work.

“I never bought that: for me colour is essential; I instinctively felt I needed it to give my work force. Just as we have smell memories, we have colour memories. I mean the world is in colour, right?”

Joel Meyerowitz [2018] [Accessed 03/05/2020]

Helen Levitt was an American photographer. She was mostly known for her street photography. Levitt has a huge range of photographs from neighbourhoods in New York. She started with the iconic black and white images from the 30s and 40s. Levitt then reverted to colour photography. These coloured images are amongst her most popular work.

Bibliography [Accessed 03/05/2020] [Accessed 03/05/2020] [Accessed 03/05/2020] [Accessed 03/05/2020] [Accessed 03/05/2020] [Accessed 03/05/2020]

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