Attempting to unravel a strict definition to street photography is a challenging process and it eventually always hurts the liberating and non-uniform spirit that this fine art form of making images is famed for. Street photography can be described as a genre which aims at capturing opportunistic moments of an unsuspecting urban public space within a camera’s frame. Although the word street can be found in the very name of the movement, this subgenre of photography does not strictly demand that the image is made on the actual street. A completely valid photo of this style can be taken in a train, a bar, at a basketball game, during a concert or inside a cinema – an image can be realized literally anywhere and this has greatly contributed to the flexibility on which street photography has been praised upon for the majority of its existence.
A genuine street photographer must only stick to one austere rule in order to be considered a member of this style and that is making sure that the photos taken are completely candid. They need to be unmanipulated and totally unstaged, providing the camera-holder with an accurate expression of everyday life and an unfiltered doorway to observing unordinary moments occurring in an otherwise ordinary world. This is the reason why street photography is often quoted as the most honest art form to have ever been invented.
Due to its unrestricted nature, this subgenre of photo making proved itself as one of the most adaptive techniques to emerge in the last two centuries. This, naturally, paved the way for many aspiring artists to leave their own marks on the subgenre, all of them contributing with numerous theories, stylistic alterations and artistic goals. If one starts exploring the street photography from a chronological perspective, that person will eventually arrive all the way to the 21st century and its practitioners, finding out that the modern time offers many individuals dedicated to further development of the subgenre. What follows next is a list presenting some of the most prominent and highly influential street photographers of modern times that continue to leave their artistic stamp on this latest stage of street photography.
Editors’ Tip: Street Photography Now
This fantastic book presents the forty-six contemporary image-makers who are dedicating their entire careers to creating candid depictions of life around us, including compositions took on the streets, in the subways, at shopping malls, movie theaters, on beaches and in public parks. Authors Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren offer a perfect opportunity to study how the subgenre of street photography looks today and find out how well did this style adapt to the modern requirements placed before it. Logically, the focal point of the Street Photography Now book are the illustrations of photographies, many of which have been provided by the legendary Magnum Photos company and their members. The book also prides itself on the worldwide coverage as it leaves out no current street photographer worth mentioning regardless of the geographical location. Besides images, a reader can investigate the four provoking essays and a global conversation between leading street photographers, all in an attempt to fully understand the mindset driving the representatives of this movement. Street Photography Now is also the perfect place for an aspiring camera-holder to begin his artistic journey and get acquainted with the contemporary greats.
Featured images in slider: Oracio Alvarado – Tough Guy – Image via phillipehan.com; Joanna Mrówka – Untitled – Image via lensculture.com; Marius Vieth – Untitled – Image via designfather.com; Shane Francescut – Red Balloons – Image courtesy of Shane Francescut
Los Angeles-based street photographer John Free has been a crucial figure in the scene for over three decades and his masterful images shave often been referenced as some of the best ever made. His photography work is underlined by the habit of getting very close to people on the streets, proving that one needs to get rid of the social awkward norm in order to become a fantastic street photographer. One of his most famous photography series is the legendary End of the line project, a project that took place in the Los Angeles freight yards where John photographed railroad “tramps” daily for ten full years. The second series that made Free famous is 24 Hours in the Life of Los Angeles, a series which featured several international photographers selected to take part in the project that eventually resulted in the book of the same title. Besides inspiring with his work, John Free has also influenced thousands upon thousands of young artists through his photography classes – lectures which are given all around the world. Free’s images have appeared in numerous renowned magazines, such as Newsweek, US News and World Report.
Featured image: John Free – Untitled – Image via streetviewphotography.net
Eric Kim is a street photographer widely recognized for his contributions to the subgenre of candid image making. Just as Free does, Kim as well sticks to the black and white style that honors the heritage of street photography and the movement’s greats. Eric combines techniques of approaching close and observing from a far, depending on the current situation. Besides producing fascinating photos, Eric Kim also teaches workshops all around the world, helping aspiring artists to set sails in the right direction. He is also famed for his phenomenal blog that can easily be considered as one of the most informative blogs about street photography. Kim writes about becoming better, how to overcome your fears, how to appear invisible in the streets and tons more of useful information.
Featured image: Eric Kim – Jazz Hand – Image via adammarelliphoto.com
Bruce Gilden is an American photographer from The Big Apple and a valuable member of the already mentioned Magnum photography agency. This true giant of street photography is regularly acclaimed for his trademark style of using an off camera flash to give his photos a special dramatic Gilden look – an effect that is one of the most widely copied methods throughout the world of photography. A believer in the candid necessity, Gilden approaches people in the streets and snaps them intrusively with his Leica, exposing usually deeply hidden emotions of people and capturing the unique energy of the streets. For the last two decades, Gilden has been focused mostly on The Big Apple, tackling an approach to its urban spaces – this project resulted in two critically acclaimed publications of Facing NY and A Beautiful Catastrophe. Bruce Gilden’s work has been exhibited all around the world with massive success and has been published numerous times in many magazines. He is a winner of multiple awards and has had many short documentaries made about him. Gilden also teaches photographic workshops.
Featured image: Bruce Gilden – Picnic with Serge – Image via piotrekziolkowski.com
Another American street photographer on this list that is associated with a Magnum Photos membership, Alex Webb is a massively influential artist that can easily be placed on any list concentrating on prominent photographers of the street. Originally from San Fransisco, Alex has tremendous experience that has impacted the wider community with his unique style of photography. Experimenting with depth and working primarily in color, Webb uses strong tones, light and emotion to capture beautifully complex images of orderly chaos found in the streets. His more recent photographs have been getting richer and more complex with every trip he takes as he wanders the globe and they depict a complicated and inexplicable place we call the world. Alex is also often described as a master of photographic compositing. Webb’s work has been published in numerous books and in such magazines as Time, NY Times and GEO, and also exhibited around the world, including Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Photographic Arts and Walker Art Center.
Featured image: Alex Webb – Untitled – Image via leica-camera.com
An artist with an impressive history of working in the music industry and editorials, Zack Arias is a street photographer from the city of Atlanta. Besides accepting interesting commissions that manage to reach his doorway, Arias never truly stopped making street photographies for himself and is one of the more active artists on this list. He has a simple and adorable style with classic visuals that pay homage to the subgenre’s greatest names. The way his subjects succeed to pop and shine is undebatably associated to Zack’s background of photographing music stars. Arias uses both black and white and in color images, never afraid to experiment and even uses humor on a regular basis. His contributions to street photography is immense as he is always somehow involved with many kinds of projects and happenings. Since he is Fujifilm’s official representative photographer, Arias has influenced thousands of artists to pick up their cameras and hit the streets. Due to his multifaceted nature, highly active work habit and overall influence, Zack has had his work published and featured numerous times in well-known magazines, podcasts and online shows.
Featured image: Zack Arias – Tunnel of Light – Image via saadiamahmud.com
Martin Parr is a British documentary and street photographer who is often described as the most explosive surprise to ever suddenly emerge onto the subgenre’s scene. Known around the world for his intimate and satirical photographs which focus on different aspects of modern life, Parr usually explores various topics concerning social classes of England and the hypocrisy of the West in general. He concentrates on photographing the mundane, everyday life of people that live just around the corner, enhancing the images with vivid colors by using specific flash techniques. Many have even went as far as describing his work as actual kitch. With almost forty books published and over eighty exhibitions held worldwide, Martin has established himself as one of the most prolific British street photographers. It should be noted that Martin Parr is as well a valuable member of the Magnum Photos organization.
Featured image: Martin Parr – Untitled – Image via chloe328.com
Still very active despite his old age, Joel Meyerowitz is an internationally renowned American street photographer from New York. This real street photography legend never stopped impacting the scene, with his latest projects being just as influential as his older, more classic ones. Joel began photographing in color in the early 1960s and was an early advocate of the use of color during a time when there was significant resistance to the idea of color photography as serious art. To put it lightly, the size of Meyerowitz’s work is overwhelming – he has done over 350 exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world and has sold more than 100,000 copies during his long and highly productive career, which is still very much alive. His most famous work is associated with the 9/11 tragedies as Joel was the only photographer to be granted an unimpeded access to Ground Zero immediately after the attacks, systematically documenting the painful work of rescue and recovery. Besides working in the street subgenre, Joel Meyerowitz is also rather successful in portrait and landscape photography.
Featured image: Joel Meyerowitz – An untitled photo from Paris – Image via huffingtonpost.com
Originally from New Zealand, Anna Delany is a famous New York-based street photographer with an impressive catalog more than worthy of deep exploration. Her extraordinarily captivating photographs of despair and human resilience are deeply immersed in the streets of New York and its subculture. Delany’s work is gritty and full of rare honesty, depicting how lower classes of the Big Apple spend their days. Anna’s images are incapable of lying and are a true mirror of the society they depict. They document the beauty and the subtleties of everyday life in the decaying neighborhoods and overlooked communities found outside of the mainstream media. Due to her tireless nature, Delany is always on the road and in a constant search for new subjects, looking for eccentric people, bizarre events, iconic landmarks and unique cityscapes.
Featured image: Anna Delany – Untitled – Image copyright Anna Delany
Vladimir Milivojevic, much better known by his artistic alias of Boogie, is another New York-based street photographer on this list. Originally from Belgrade, Boogie made a name for himself thanks to his outstanding documentary and portrait photographs of people on the margins of society. Unfortunately for the Big Apple, this metropolis served as a perfect place for Vladimir to seek mistreated and overlooked individuals. His beginning can be traced all the way back to the 1990s when Yugoslavia was amidst a civil war – this terrible setting provided young Boogie with numerous dark topics and subjects. His stunning street photography work has been featured by the New York Times, Time magazine and Huffington Post, as well as published in several books, most infamous being his first monograph titled It’s All Good. This cult book displays a gritty, graphic and gripping exposé of the New York underworld and its inhabitants.
Featured image: Boogie – An image from the It’s All Good project – Image via alldayeveryday.com
Definitely one of the most well-known contemporary street photographers in Europe is Thomas Leuthard, an artist hailing from Switzerland. Despite making numerous shots of his own country’s streets, Thomas enjoys traveling all over the world in order to make more and more unique photographs. Besides photographing, Thomas also teaches workshops and offers online street photography courses. Leuthard has written and shared five completely free E-books concerning street photography, presenting the readers with both his works and the mindset hiding behind it. However, E-books are not the only thing that Thomas Leuthard provides free of cost – he also uploads ALL of his images online and makes sure that not a single penny is charged to anyone interested into downloading it. As if the lack for additional profit was not impressive enough, Leuthard never stops amazing the audience with his talent for composition and perfect timing.
Featured image: Thomas Leuthard – Untitled – Image via dodho.com
- Howarth, Sophie and McLaren, Stephen, Street Photography Now, Thames & Hudson, New York, 2012, 240
- Lewis, Gordon, Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment, Rocky Nook, New York, 2015, 149