“BAD ARTISTS COPY, GOOD ARTISTS STEAL.”, SALVADOR DALI

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2. The greatest artists ”copied” their masters before finding their own voice

Garry Winogrand, World’s Fair, New York City, 1964
Garry Winogrand, World’s Fair, New York City, 1964

The concept of ”street photography” is only a phrase coined by art critics, historians, and academics. Most of the famous ”street photographers” don’t even like calling themselves street photographers. Even Garry Winogrand, arguably one of the best of this century said he despised the term.

However the term is important to differentiate ourselves from other types of photographers to masses. Calling yourself a street photographer is easier to describe what you do than calling yourself a landscape photographer.

Therefore if you discover you enjoy taking photos of people in public candidly, it is ”street photography”. Whatever you find on ”street photography” on google is dictated by what images turn up on the top of google images or what websites pop up. That’s why we always think that street photography has to look like the classic work of henri cartier-Bresson and so forth.

However if you look up ”street photography” on Youtube, the first thing you may see is a video of gilden in action. Therefore people in the ”Internet generation” may think that ”street photography” is what gilden does when shooting on the streets.

It is impossible to start street photography or even have a notion of it without having seen the work of others before you. I always think that it’s b.s. when people say that they are never influenced by the work of others. Of course you would have seen amazing images of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s couple kissing in times square, or the lifting of the flag at iwo jima, or the photo of the afghan girl by Steve McCurry without having ever touched a camera.

Most photographers I have met who are quite established always have a similar story of either seeing incredible images when they were young that inspired them to pick up a camera, or by their parents who were also photographers.

Therefore I think that style in street photography is something that we can learn to develop by first studying the work of those who came before us. We learn not only which subjects they chose, but how they framed and composed their photos, and what equipment and approach they had. After all, it is useful to know that Henri Cartier-Bresson used a Leica that is compact and agile, whereas Ansel Adams used a large-format camera that was bulky but captured incredible detail in his landscape work.

Therefore steal all the work that you can. Look at all the images of the famous street photographers that came before you, and look at a lot of the great work from contemporary photographers, and even the work of those online. Be a sponge and absorb all the knowledge and insights as you can, but synthesize everything that you has learned and apply it to your own unique vision of the world.

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Conclusion

In this article I discussed some of my personal experiences in finding my own ”style” when it comes to street photography, and I am discovering new things everyday. My views of the world and feelings of street photography constantly change and evolve, based on the work I see from other photographers, and the people I meet. People say it is contradictory and bad. I see it as being open-minded and positive.

Steal ideas constantly. Read a ton of books, photographs, movies, music, and literature from others. Use the ideas of those who came before you, and synthesize them to create your own unique voice.

Realize that style isn’t something you learn, but rather discover. Your ”style” isn’t something aesthetic, but how you see the world. It is the reason you make the decision to take a photograph of an old couple holding hands on the train, versus shooting a macro shot of a flower (with tons of bokeh).

Take in the criticism and critique from others, but in the end don’t try too hard to please others and everybody you know. First aim to satisfy yourself, and create a body of work which shows how you see the world in a certain way. Work on a long-term project for a year with one camera and one lens and don’t worry too much about being ”original” or about the gear. Constantly experiment, but not so much that you lose focus.

Ask yourself the question, ”How is the way that I see the world different from others?” After all, every photograph you take is a mirror of yourself.

TLDR; style in street photography isn’t something aesthetic, but rather how you see the world and what statement you are trying to say.

Thoughts, opinions, comments about originality and street photography? Which parts of the article do you agree/disagree with? Contribute your ideas in the comments below! 

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