My latest embrace of the world of street continued with a wonderful weekend at the first London Street Photography Symposium. I found some lovely like-minded souls with whom to share ideas, walk the streets and hear their thoughts.
What struck me was the populism that the phrase "street photography" now holds. Nick Turpin recalled how he felt like the only street photographer in London, sorry the only photographer taking pictures on the street, when he started in the 80s. It was still an isolated, idiosyncratic practice. Since then the popularity of the term has grown, facilitated by the internet, to a point I regard as "peak street" in 2011. Now street photography is used comfortably to describe a variety of styles, subjects and forms of image making. I find parallels here - sorry it's a bad habit of mine - of the adoption by the mainstream of underground or transgressive creative forms like punk or rap, skateboarding or street art etc. With acceptance and familiarity come a dilution of the "ideals" of the original movement. Pale imitations proliferate, superficially similar but soulless. But don't get me wrong. There is no one way to do street. Like any faith it can accommodate many beliefs, disciples and prophets. However it's inspiring when you do stumble across the real deal.
What is interesting about street is how it's shadowed and refracted the mainstream technological developments of the medium. Think 35mm Leica and Contax in the 1920s, the Speed Graphic in the 30s. I've reflected on my own love of old school techniques. They grew organically, a product of my own circumstances in time and place, not as a deliberate homage.
My recent experiments with digital have made me reconsider my work in relation to the facets of that technology. I'd argue cameras on mobile phones are now fundamentally different to the classic machines I've referenced above. They are networked devices designed and used to record, manipulate and share, often in realtime, very personal moments with both intimate friends and anonymous authorities. Is there a new form of street photography that can reflect our times in that way? My ideas are still hazy. I'm not talking scavenger hunts!. Perhaps time to revisit Ambiguous?
Time will tell.