A city is a living, dynamic thing just waiting to be caught on camera. When I moved to Boston in the summer of 2011, I quickly realized just how true this was. From the cobbled streets of Beacon Hill to the concrete slabs and tile walls of the T stations to the rolling greenery of the Commons and Public Gardens, Boston is awake and thriving, and, most importantly, it’s full of magnificent sights and extraordinary people. Or, in other words, great subjects for photography.
Photographers thinking of what to do in Boston can start taking street photos.
Street photography is not something you plan or set up, it’s just something you do. You go to a destination to observe and record what you see, capturing what occurs around you. It’s informal by nature—photojournalism without the pressure.
What officially separates the street photography genre from its close neighbor photojournalism is that, where the former features subjects in candid situations in public places, the latter encompasses a broader range of genres and is more formalized. Specifically, photojournalism is visual storytelling, and usually involves a series of photographs or a single compelling photograph that illustrates a particular newsworthy event.
In street photography you don’t have to tell a story, and the moment you capture may stand alone as a single memory, no caption necessary.
Although there have been hundreds of prominent street photographers who have contributed greatly to the popularity of the genre, there are two men which have been particularly influential in the last century for their creativity and perseverance. Through their photography, they’ve created windows to the past, windows that anyone can look through to see life as it was when they were alive.
The first of these two men is New York Photographer Garry Winogrand. He is famous for declaring “all things are photographable,” and he dedicated his life to photographing as many things as possible. He shot over five million photographs during his lifetime, and would frequently take between one hundred and five hundred photos per day (6–12 rolls of film) of events in New York City. He shot often—perhaps too often. He admitted that there were thousands of images that he had taken but never had the time to see. He rarely hesitated. When he saw opportunities he caught them and refused to crop anything he took, reasoning that any shot that had to be cropped wasn’t good enough to begin with. This last habit was something that Winogrand had in common with another influential street photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Cartier-Bresson, born in France in the early 1900s, was one of first artists to specialize in street photography. In art school, he was introduced to the new wave of Realism making its way through Europe and was encouraged to experiment with this trending perspective in his art and photography. He was bored with the systematic nature of the studio with its predictable scenes and subjects and desired to get out into the world and photograph things as they are. Due to his efforts, he has been called the father of photojournalism and one of the greatest street photographers to have ever lived.
So, inspired by the careers of Gary Winogrand and Henri Cartier-Bresson, I took to the streets of Boston in the Spring of 2013, determined not only to photograph “all things” but also to “photograph them as they are.” The project is ongoing.
Like photojournalism, street photography has a reputation for being honest. The images are meant to be a documentation of a moment in history, and to change the photograph would be akin to changing history. It is supposed to be unplanned and spontaneous, a record of an event as it unfolds around the lens. This is why, to excel in the genre, not only do you have to shoot often—more frames means more opportunity for a great shot—but you also need to be quick on your feet and extremely patient.
Street photography also involves minimal interaction between the subject and the photographer, so while it’s necessary to remain alert, it’s a good idea to keep a relative distance. The photo above was taken with a telephoto lens from across the street, the subject unaware that she was being photographed.
In case you might be wondering, as long as a person is within a public area and not on private property you are free to take their photograph without their permission. In the United States, at least, you are also allowed to sell or publish it as a work of art or photojournalism. (This was affirmed by the 2007 lawsuit Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia.)
Legally, you are free to take pictures of whomever you wish, whenever you wish, wherever you wish as long as you don’t use a recognizable image of the individual for commercial purposes or photograph them on private property.
With street photography, opportunities are endless, especially if you find yourself in a large city like Boston, New York, or Chicago. But you don’t have to be in a big city to create memorable shots, because good street photography can happen anywhere. Just bring your camera and a keen eye for observation and see what develops.