There is not one definition of “street photography”: the word ‘street’ is a euphemism, standing essentially in opposition to the studio that preceded it, and ultimately to any kind of restrictive frame – it is a photography that is free of rules. Street photography is about finding beauty in the mundane, in everyday life, away from the factual appeal of journalism or the instantaneous beauty of Pictorialism. As Carolyn Drake suggests: “Every photographer should define what ‘the street’ means to them”. There are of course a few defining elements for the genre. First, a strong locus: the sense of a place. Legendarily, the streets of New York –Manhattan, Brooklyn, Harlem, Coney Island -filled with ubiquitous fictions; and those of Paris, London, Tokyo, Havana, Valparaiso… But “street” is really a code name for any public space, a strange or familiar scene available to all, allowing photographers to shoot complete strangers. In this regard, subways and trains were always a photographer’s favorite– from Walker Evans’s subway portraits (1938-41) to Bruce Davidson’s own color Subway series in the 1980s, capturing the ever-inspiring gaze of passengers in transit.
The second defining element is a human presence: bodies, faces, silhouettes, that almost always belong to strangers (the exception being the photographer’s own shadow or reflection in street self-portraits). If Magnum photographers tend to focus on human nature and the human condition, some, like Ernst Haas, found street beauty in graphic elements alone: a torn poster, iron work in the pavement. Animals also make for very rich and lively subjects: while Elliott Erwitt is the most famous of the “street animal photographers”, Richard Kalvar’s nonchalant dog became one of his best-known images, and Inge Morath’s “Llama in Times Square” is one of the most popular photographs in Magnum’s archives.
The third and final defining element, perhaps the most crucial, is the idea of ‘chance’, and how to use it: to anticipate the unexpected. Street photography requires the utmost level of curiosity and openness to the world –a strong belief in serendipity.