Street Photography Approach: 50 Years From Now

Arboretum, Harvard, Boston, Leica, Street Photography, spring, blooming, tree, beautiful, landscape

In the past two years I’ve doubled down (an understatement) on the amount of photography books I’ve been buying.  I love studying others photographers work.  I like to dissect it and figure out what makes it work and why.  Lately, I’ve been really drawn to the color street photographers with work from fifty or more years ago.  For instance, Stephen Shore, Fred Herzog, Robert Frank, Martin Parr, Saul Leiter, and the list goes on.  What strikes me as interesting is their work is aging like a fine wine.  Granted, it was great when they took it (though some would argue otherwise but art is subjective, is it not) but man, it really seems to be getting better and better as the years go by.

Pittsburgh, street photography, Leica M10,

So what’s the point?  The point is, nostalgia has a funny way of sneaking up on us.  When we look around and see everyone with their face buried in their smart phone or iPad like device we think to ourselves “ugh, why would I photograph that… it’s so common and boring”, right?  Yes.  You’re right.  But will it be common and boring in 50 years?  Do you remember your first car?  I can remember my first car, my dads old 1990-something GMC Sierra 1500…  Man did I think that thing was ugly.  Now, I see those trucks and wish I’d have convinced my dad to hang on to it because it’s got so much character compared to the cars and trucks of today.  Incidentally, I always felt like the Fonz (if you’re too young to know who the Fonz was then please hit this link) when I would drive it because the radio wouldn’t work unless you hit the side of the dash with a closed fist.

Since realizing this gem, I’ve been creating a lot of photographs like the one you see above.  Photographs that really speak to the time we are living in right now.  Instead of getting irritated that people flock to whatever looks interesting with their smart phones and iPads out, snapping pictures, I simply step back and let them arrange themselves into interesting positions…  I’m specifically looking for images that someone 50 years in the future would look back at and have that nostalgic feeling jump up and punch them in the gut…  But in a good kind of gut punch way.

Do I recommend plastering all of these types of photos to social media?  Not really, the response you’ll get will likely be the same response you have to the scenes…  Meh, I’ve seen it.  Because you see it every day.  But if you’re a true street photographer, whose job is the documenting of the life and times of our current generation then I think it’s our responsibility to document these things even though they may be “too normal” today.

Caveat

I don’t recommend you change your style to accommodate only this type of shooting.  I do recommend you keep it in the back of your mind and take these types of shots when the opportunities jump out at you.  I think creating images like this show a good amount of foresight in that they will be good for your business in the distant future.  Today?  Well, today you should be innovating and constantly trying new things.  The days of “only focus on this one type of photography to be an expert” are over (that’s the worst advice I’ve ever heard).

Conclusion

Thank you for stopping by PhotolisticLife and spending a little time here, I truly appreciate it. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below and follow me on Instagram @PhotolisticLife.

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3 Comments

  • I’m sure glad you get it. I couldn’t agree more. William Eggleston is the epitome of this premise. Great article and site John keep up the good work.

    • Thanks! Truly appreciate the feedback. Eggleston is great, I just read Election Eve last month. Another one that sort of epitomizes this point is Jay Wolke… Are you familiar with his work?

  • I’ve been shooting the stores on the main drag for years and watching them change with time. Clothes, hairstyles and accepted colors morph with society. I always liked tripping the shutter of a camera but the first time I saw a Civil War photo sent shutters down my spine.

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