Street photography is photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. The subject of the photograph might be absent of people and can be an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.
Framing and timing arguably play more crucially in street photography than any other form of photography for the aim is to create images at a decisive or poignant moment. Much of what is now widely regarded, stylistically and subjectively, as definitive street photography was made in the era spanning the end of the 19th Century through to the late 1970s; a period which saw the emergence of portable cameras. The advent of digital photography, combined with the exponential growth of photo-sharing via the internet, has greatly expanded an awareness of the genre and its practitioners.
After the invention of the candid camera, candid photography in public places became an issue of discussion. Street photographers craft their art by capturing people in public places, often with a focus on emotions displayed by people in public, as in public display of affection between lovers or a parent caring for his or her children.
Paris is widely accepted as the birthplace of street photography. The cosmopolitan city helped to define street photography as a genre. Eugene Atget is regarded as the father of the genre, not because he was the first of his kind, but as a result of his popularity as a Parisian photographer. As the city developed, Atget helped to promote the city streets as a worthy subject for photography. He worked in the city of Paris from the 1890s to the 1920s. His subject matter consisted mainly of architecture; stairs, gardens, and windows. He did photograph some workers but it is clear that people were not his main focus.
Most kinds of portable camera are used for street photography; for example rangefinders, digital and film SLRs, and point-and-shoot cameras. A commonly used focusing technique is zone focusing — setting a fixed focal distance and shooting from that distance — as an alternative to manual-focus and autofocus. The traditional (but not exclusive) focal lengths of 28 to 50 mm (in 35 mm terms), are used particularly for their angle of view and increased depth of field, but there are no exclusions to what might be used. Zone focusing also facilitates shooting “from the hip” i.e. without bringing the camera up to the eye. Alternatively waist-level finders and the tiltable LCD screens of digital cameras allow for composing or adjusting focus without bringing unwanted attention to the photographer.
Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) was an American street photographer, who was born in New York City and spent much of her childhood in France. After returning to the United States, Maier worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago. During those years, she took more than 150,000 photographs, primarily of people and architecture of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she traveled and photographed worldwide.
Maier’s photographs remained unknown, and many of her films remained undeveloped, until her boxes of possessions were purchased at auction. A Chicago historian and collector, John Maloof, examined the images and began posting scans of Maier’s photographic negatives on the web in 2009, soon after Maier’s death. Critical acclaim and interest in Maier’s work quickly followed. Maier’s photographs have been exhibited in the USA, Europe, and Asia and have been featured in many articles throughout the world. Her life and work have been the subject of both books and documentary films.
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