July 18, 2010 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Streefers are street photographers. A photographic meme with a rich tradition. Danny Santos II is an excellent current example. He'll even give you tips if you want to try it yourself.
posted by DaddyNewt (32 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
awesome galleries - whole new photographic alleyways to explore. Excellent post.
posted by archivist at 2:44 PM on July 18, 2010

Some of these Bruce Gilden videos are fun.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 3:28 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is how I spend my free time. I take one of these:

Olympus Pen FV

And fill it with some of this:

Kodak Tri-X

Then I dive into the crowds here:


And I don't come back for hours.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 3:46 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ways of Working on the 2.8 blog is a remarkably good (imo the best) guide to street photography technique online. Also, I find this to be the most consistent of street photography pools on flickr. The level of discourse in their discussion area is also quite high.
posted by domographer at 3:58 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh I think I'm going to like this thread. I would like to shoot more candid stuff but I'm always worried about how to do it without disrupting the people.
posted by scrowdid at 4:30 PM on July 18, 2010

This is how I spend my free time. I take one of these:

Olympus Pen FV

And fill it with some of this:

Kodak Tri-X

Then I dive into the crowds here:


And I don't come back for hours.

share images with us or it never happened
posted by archivist at 4:44 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

street portraits ? no one comes close to robert bergman.

I hereby declare this thread over.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:48 PM on July 18, 2010

archivist: I do share! I just won't link to it in a FPP until it's that time, which I'm guessing will be sometime in 2019: MeFi's own tapesonthefloor follows through on promise from 2010, paints a genre-defining portrait of his city with just a wee camera from the 60s and some so-called "film".

Be sure to keep your voice down, btw... this thread was declared over.

posted by tapesonthefloor at 4:58 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a guy who defines his non-work life by saying, "I'm a photographer" I have to just put this out there: the first photographer that refers to him- or herself as a 'streepher' while in my presence is getting a punch in the gut.

Same goes for 'flexitarians' but that's another punchdiscussion.

Now that I have that out of my system let me go check out some links. I've never focused on street photography, maybe I'll learn something awesome here.
posted by komara at 5:30 PM on July 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

'Streefers'? Really? Kinda looks like the word hasn't caught on (this post is #5 for me). And thank the lord, it's a bad one.

And can this really be a meme? I eagerly await articles on the new oil painting meme, and those newfangled guitars that all of those musicians seem to be loving so much.
posted by tmcw at 6:11 PM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

If I only photoblog blobitecture with my prosumer cameraphone, am I still a streepher, or is that just sousveillance? I webucated myself reading wikitorials on the blogosphere during my pracademic staycation! Lots of my informavoracious screenager netfriends are into it as well and we all coopetitively groupblog, it's very satisficing! We're crowdsourcing an unconference about it in Octember!
posted by oulipian at 6:45 PM on July 18, 2010 [11 favorites]

If a "streefer" is someone who photographs the street, what do you call someone who photographs the queen?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:58 PM on July 18, 2010

It might refer to a pilot who performs ground attack manoeuvres while smoking weed.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2010

Streepher? Seriously? Sounds like someone who enjoys conspicuously smoking a joint in public.
posted by bwg at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, by all means, let's quibble over nomenclature and neologisms instead of enjoying art.
posted by pts at 9:37 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

So, yeah, I've been thinking about street photography all weekend because of this article. What I've come to realize, if I can be permitted a blunt statement, is this:

I don't like the vast majority of street photography.

Earlier I was thinking that perhaps I just was insufficiently schooled in street photography and perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. I clicked through every link on this page to make sure I wasn't missing something. I spend a lot of time taking photos and thinking critically about photos yet this area remains a blank spot for me. I don't practice it, I don't seek it out and look for it, and I really started wondering why. Was it because I am intimidated by it*? Or just uninterested? Turns out I just find most of it boring.

I feel like I need to make some sort of Schroedinger's Exception for street portraiture. Yes, it's 'street' in that the photographer was outside in a public space and found a stranger and took their portrait. Yet I don't feel it's necessary to know the full provenance (if you will) of a photo to be able to relate to/with it. Maybe I'm being intentionally obtuse, but it doesn't matter to me, the viewer, if the photographer has known the subject for one minute, one year, or one lifetime. The photo itself doesn't come with a description of the situation. Several of Danny Santos' portraits are very good, but if you put them in a gallery with other traditional portraits, would you be able to tell that they were 'street'? Is this any more or less important than knowing (but being unable to tell at a glance) if a photo is film or digital? If we're not talking about portraits of beautiful people, does it become 'street' just because the subject looks down on their luck and run over by life?

If it's the end result that matters, and if I feel that street portraiture is insufficiently distinguishable from 'normal' portraiture, then I'm left with the rest of street photography, and that seems to consist mainly of people walking around in public spaces. In all of those that I've seen, it's rare that something stops me in my tracks or engages me. This could be an aspect of my personality and not a condemnation of shots of people passing through slivers of light between buildings or what have you - sometimes the buildings themselves might strike me as more interesting than the people. I just don't find the shallow depth-of-field shot of one person in a sea of others that interesting. Even the few times I have gone out to intentionally do street stuff I come home, review my shots, and am not impressed. I want to be clear that it's not that I think they're not doing a good job - I don't really care about theirs, mine, or anyone's. Very little of it moves me in any significant way.

Okay, I realize that I'm being unnecessarily harsh. To continue to use Santos as an example: when I look through this page (which appears to cover the majority of his range from what I've seen) there are one, maybe two images that are interesting to me. This is, of course, excluding the portraits, many of which are good. Maybe I could say the same about macro flower photography, or food porn, or artistic nudes. Maybe I should. Sometimes it just seems that street is held in this strangely high regard, as if it's the pinnacle to which we must all aspire.

Maybe I should wait to write things until I've had more coffee. So hey, please, take me to task on this and tell me what I'm missing. Show me examples (individual shots) of street photography that totally move you and make you feel, that tell a story, that make you stop and stare and think. I probably did not cast my net nearly wide enough, and I'm sure I've missed some great images - maybe enough to make me change my mind about this whole thing.

* yes indeed the times I've done street I was intimidated by the experience. I'm an extrovert for sure, but the idea of being asked, "Hey, what are you doing taking my picture?" bothered me a lot. Still, I went and did it, and eventually I did have to have that interaction, and it didn't kill me. Probably made me even better. Yet at the end of the day when it was all done, the resulting images didn't impress me - just pictures of strangers. So why put myself into an uncomfortable situation just to get a mediocre result?

[caveat: I am in no way implying that I am equal to or better than Santos, any street photographers, or any other photographers in general. We all do good in our own ways. I intended this to be a comment about the genre itself, not about technical skill.]
posted by komara at 8:06 AM on July 19, 2010

@komara - Yeah, but they're raw!!

But seriously: I agree. There's a tendency toward unwarranted pretension in this arena. Of course, that's pretty much true for any photographic sub-specialty. Still, street photography (I will NEVER refer to it as "streepher", for the record) does seem to stand out as a glaring example of overhyped, uninspired "meh" photography.

That's not to say there aren't beautiful works of art in these galleries; rather, much of it just isn't as significant as it's made out to be.

Now, if they were to apply a Holga filter to some of these photos we might be talkin' serious art!
posted by sprocket87 at 8:21 AM on July 19, 2010

@komera: "Normal" portraiture to me is about a complete focus on the subject, and even when there are props or studio backdrops or plein air settings these are window dressing. In "street" photography, the street is never window dressing. The photograph must exhibit a perfect balance between subject and setting; it must show a person who is the very model of perfection in that point in both space and time.

That's my opinion. I am no expert. I also don't do "straight" portraiture, so pardon me if my characterization is wrong.

I don't see that balance in a lot of Santos's work. I do see it in a lot of Bresson's work, though. Perhaps it's time again for that link to Bresson's auspicious introduction to the Flickr Deleteme group:

I love this photo (so does MoMA). I love it for the very things it is criticized for in the Flickr thread. Compare this photograph to Santos's shots linked above. This is not a detailed, high-res, close-up study of a Depression-era French cyclist. This is simply a quick, seemingly effortless shot of a man on a bicycle who happens to be in perfect harmony with his time and his surroundings. I like seeing that. That's what makes a great street photo for me.

I'm quite thankful that Bresson was standing on that deliciously off-kilter staircase at that exact moment, because the world would be an ever-so-slightly poorer place if he hadn't been.

But, again: I'm no expert.

"I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant." —Henri Cartier-Bresson

"Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Paris" —Henri Cartier-Bresson
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:13 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I feel like I need to make some sort of Schroedinger's Exception for street portraiture.

Street photographers would make the same distinction. Street portraiture is distinctly different from "street" photography. Street portraits generally use shallow depth of field and a 75 to 90mm lens, separating the photographer from their subject and their subject from the world at large. Street photos on the other hand are generally shot with a wide to normal lens, somewhere in the 24 to 50mm range and transcend the sort of people in the street photos shown above. This is a good definition of the street aesthetic from one of the better blogs out there. Street photography isn't for everyone but these streephers are not the ones to judge it by. It would be more fair to look at the best of the form, people like Gary Winogrand (excellent video of Gary working in the street here,) Lee Friendlander , Lisette Model and countless other greats like Robert Frank, William Klein, Joel Meyerowitz, Martin Parr (who is proof a street photograph need not be taken in the street). If interested further reading can be found here where enthusiasts have assembled a library list of great photographers / books.
posted by domographer at 9:59 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also I would add that online is the absolute worst place to view photography. Many public libraries have great selections of street photography books, including books that are notoriously expensive / hard to source.
posted by domographer at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2010

Yes, by all means, let's quibble over nomenclature and neologisms instead of enjoying art.

OK! Streepher is a stupid fucking word invented for no good reason except in the pathetic hopes that the coiner of such words becomes famous simply for inventing it, because lord knows they could never become famous for anything worthy of fame, no, they fire their asinine aphagias at the world scattershot hoping enough random fucktards and morimbiciles pick up on it so the English language keeps their tiny little urine-soaked shit piles on permanent exhibit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:27 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

tapesonthefloor, domographer: I'm glad to see that I'm not off in my thinking that street portraiture is no different than regular portraiture. I wonder why even bother to to use the word 'street' to differentiate it? I can understand the difference in studio portraiture versus outdoor portraiture, but isn't saying 'street portraiture' basically saying that the only difference is the length of time that the photographer has known their subject?

As for street photography, I'm glad you both have brought me examples of the good stuff. I was amused several weeks ago to read through the Deleteme Bresson debacle. I only wish I'd been there to watch it unfold. The little bits of Bresson that I have seen (in library books, thankfully; you're totally right about that one, domographer) do show that he had a great connection with his time and place, and I don't recall very many that were just the 'face in the crowd' shot with a long lens.

domographer: that blog defining the street aesthetic was a good read, and it came across humorous with little-to-no posturing, and that was refreshing. As for the other photographers like Winogrand and Model ... maybe it's my own brain malfunction, but I'm fascinated by their photos because of the age of the photos and the social context, not for the people. I guess what I mean is that if I had been looking at them the day after they exited the darkroom I might not be as interested, because they would be new. Now when I look at them, years later, I find them fascinating archives of the past and am distracted by that. Would I have liked them then? I guess I'll never know.

Does that mean that I might like Santos in 30 years? I think that you two are right in saying that many of these modern street photographers are choosing an aesthetic that is not the same as that which came before.

Not two days ago I made a note to myself to get to the big library downtown and thumb through more photography books. Consider that note double-underlined and highlighted now.
posted by komara at 11:00 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love street photography. Some of it, that is -- as with any art form, there's lots of chaff with the wheat. (Occasionally I do it myself, though I usually focus more on urban street scenes without people.) I've never heard the term streefer; ack.

My favorite historic street photographer is Helen Levitt -- her Metafilter obit thread, with many great links, is here. Garry Winogrand, too, of course.

One good contemporary group of street photographers is In Public (disclaimer: I know a few of them).

I don't get the accusation that street photography is pretentious (though some people doing it might be). You can do it with any film or digital camera. The only rules are 1.) go outside to a place with other humans, 2.) don't set things up, and 3.) don't do ridiculous after-the-fact Photoshopping. (Adjusting the color balance or contrast is okay; editing out a McDonald's wrapper or adding a hazy filter isn't.) What could be easier?

Oh, and rule 4.) might be: Edit your stuff, or have someone else with a good eye help you. Winogrand shot literally tens of thousands of photos, and only the best 500 or so are in public circulation. One of my exasperations with Flickr and many photo blogs is people's insistence of putting up *every single damn thing* they've shot. Gah! Leave us wanting more, people.

Looking forward to digging deeper into the links here. But it's overcast, and I think I need to get outside first.
posted by lisa g at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, man, lisa g:
One of my exasperations with Flickr and many photo blogs is people's insistence of putting up *every single damn thing* they've shot. Gah! Leave us wanting more, people.
TELL ME ABOUT IT. That is one of my major pet peeves. As I wrote in an email to a friend recently, edited for clarity:

"There is nothing that pisses me off more than someone who dumps their memory card to Flickr. No! No no no! You may NOT pass off part of the work on me! Your job as a photographer is to find the BEST THING and show it to me. I like that picture of the girl in the tub, I really do - but when there are 20 of them, each a little different, then you have FUCKED UP. You are making me do work, and viewing your photos has turned into a chore. And seriously, it's a girl in a tub. Choose ONE. There is - I guarantee - ONE that works better than all the rest. I know you're proud of your little creations, but show me only the best. The best."

I have a serious problem with posting more than one photo from any event, shoot, location, or anything else. At times I can push myself and upload four, maybe five.

Perhaps this has a lot to do with why I don't enjoy doing street photography - if any result looks like something I've already posted, then I'm not interested in showing it. I try to make something new every time. Maybe I just don't know how to make each street shot look new and interesting.
posted by komara at 1:27 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if any of you have any recommendations for books I should check out, especially if it's available from my library, I'd love to hear them. So far everyone who has contributed seems to have a good eye for solid photographers, so if there's a particular book or books I'd love to know.
posted by komara at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2010

Scroll halfway down this page. It will be worth it if you are interested in this topic.
posted by spock at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2010

I dropped by the local (tiny) branch of my library after work. The only real street photography book they had was Angel's World: The New York Photographs of Angel Rizzuto and man, what a book. It's worth finding a copy just to read the several-page introduction by Michael Lesy. Rizzuto was, depending on your definition, either slightly or horribly mentally ill. He left his tiny rented hotel room every day at 2:00PM to go out and photograph the New York City of the mid-1950s. Most of the images in the book revolve around cityscapes shot from as high up as possible, candids of angry or upset-looking women, occasional children, and some very strange anguished arm's length self-portraits. Worth checking out.
posted by komara at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2010

I guess what I mean is that if I had been looking at them the day after they exited the darkroom I might not be as interested, because they would be new.

I know what you mean. I was talking with a friend the other day about the appearance of cars in my street photography, and how ugly I found them compared to the stylish cars and streets of 1960s New York. Some day in the future maybe our photos of Fords and Toyotas will have that same quality. Then again maybe not, heh. I also find a lot of the work from the golden age compelling because the camera was still novel and there wasn't the hostility that exists towards cameras now. Photographs of strangers would hang in galleries without the question of needing a release, or the idea that someone's privacy might be violated. But that's a different discussion, heh.

Oh, man, lisa g:

One of my exasperations with Flickr and many photo blogs is people's insistence of putting up *every single damn thing* they've shot. Gah! Leave us wanting more, people.

TELL ME ABOUT IT. That is one of my major pet peeves.

I feel the same way about the unedited photostreams.Curation is such a big part of good photography. Gary Winogrand shot 8 rolls of TriX a day, every day, for decades. He left behind countless thousands of undeveloped frames. It was really John Swarovski's editing that made that output into something cohesive. If you take a look at his contact sheets, it's obvious volume was a big part of his technique.

Also, if any of you have any recommendations for books I should check out, especially if it's available from my library

After browsing available books, these jump out as books I know well
enought to recommend:

The classic Looking at Photographs by John Swarovski, which isn't street centric but does contain several seminal images, is an excellent collection with insightful commentary on every frame.

The Work of Atget, collected by John Swarovski, is an excellent intro to the French photographer's work. I would call him more proto-street, or France's Walker Evans, who himself was one of the grandfathers of candid and street photography.

And speaking of Walker Evans, your library has two of his books. The self-titled, Princeton published MOMA catalogue contains virtually all of his important work, and then some. A beautiful large format book.

Also the titles available by Larry Fink, Lee Friedlander are worth checking out.

I couldn't find much by the big names of street photography's glory days, but there are a couple HCB books. I'm not that into Cartier-Bresson so I don't feel qualified there.
posted by domographer at 8:57 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

domographer, you are absolutely tops. I have Looking at Photographs, The Work of Atget, Walker Evans, and others coming to me now. Thank you so much for taking the time to pick out some seminal titles for me.
posted by komara at 9:12 PM on July 19, 2010

Gilden's working style is, for a lack of a better term, bodacious. I shoot on the street from time to time, with the lens preset with wide lenses for deep depth of field if possible, or moderate telephotos, so my actions usually go unnoticed.

On the recommendation of several really good street photographers I purchased one of those really tiny new digicams, which can take RAW files and have fast lenses. They are truly silent and unobtrusive.
posted by Sukiari at 4:44 AM on July 20, 2010

OK! Streepher is a stupid fucking word [...]

I really appreciate how you enriched the discussion in this thread. Thanks! ♥
posted by pts at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2010

Cartier-Bresson but no Dora Maar ?
posted by adamvasco at 9:37 AM on July 21, 2010

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