Street photos: What will make them last?

I think most of us street shooters likes the idea that we are doing something important: documenting the present urban life for the future. But how will we know which images are going to last? We all know that composition, light handling etc. is important to any image, but even a perfect photo could turn out to be useless as a street photo.

Why? Well, for starters I don´t think many images with shadows or silhouettes will have any historical value fifty years from now. Those kind of images are made by the dozen every day, and they often lack the contextual information that a good street photo has. And that may be one of the most important aspects of really good street photography: they have a clear time or place marker, meaning that you can tell by looking at the image (approximately) where and (approximately) when it was shot. A strong image won´t need anything but a title to tell you a story.

Sthlm, 2007: Hat

Sthlm, 2007: Hat

If you think about it, looking at street photos from the past, it is more likely to appreciate an image that show how people behaved, how they were dressed, what cars they drove, how the street life itself looked like and so on. Now, fast forward fifty years and I think the same will be true.

But what is a good time marker? Well, to some extent, it is pretty obvious: it could be a building that no longer exists, a distinct fashion or a behaviour no one practice anymore. An interesting thing is that most of these markers aren´t obvious to us now, and won´t be until many years from now. The only thing you can do is to start taking markers in account when you evaluate your images.

Sthlm, 2007: Lunch break 2

Let´s see what we can learn from this image: You have the clothes, the glasses, a mobile phone, a gigantic analog calendar, a seven-eleven coffee cup (Brand: Lavazza!). He´s sorrounded with people and is sitting on the well-known wall at Stureplan in central Stockholm. And the weather looks nice. In contrast to the first image above, this one gives you a lot of information. The first guy wears a hat and walks by a statue that has been at that place for more that 30 years. Looks nice though :)

Well, just some thoughts from my corner of the world. What do you think?

6 thoughts

  1. You bring up an important question: What is the purpose of street photography? I’ve thought about what it is for me, but haven’t yet come up with a succinct answer. I’ll let you know as soon as I have one :) Great post and images!

    • Absolutely, Thomas. But probably with the opposite conclusion: “Look how nice girls looked back in the old days” ;) But as I wrote in the blogpost, we don´t really know what concurrent stuff will be considered the important ones in the future. My bet is that the white Iphone/Ipod headphones will be one of them.

      A good photo, either way!


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