Are street photography and documentary photography art?



I think the question of whether or not something is art is a bit misleading and can be used more as a tool of control than as a real analysis or criticism. There is no objective standard for what makes something enjoyable as a work of art, whether it is a photograph, music, sculpture, or a strand. of grass in a field. However, when it comes to deliberately creating an artifact, I think the intention of the creator is very powerful and can offer a solid insight into how this work can be interpreted.

One of the best descriptions I heard, I think when I was still in college, of the difference between an artistic process and a design process is that design is about the destination, whereas art is about the destination. in the journey.

This involves a designer working with an end goal in mind, a blueprint of materials and techniques that he can use to produce the end result based on what he sees in his mind. An artist wouldn’t have such a clear goal or end product, and it’s more about experimenting, making mistakes and not knowing what the end result will really be until they see it happening. shape.

This is not a clinical definition, and I’m sure there are other valid ways of explaining these processes, but to me they really make sense. I think incorporating elements of both art and design can create a very articulate portfolio, with an intention behind what needs to be communicated, but an openness in how the implementation is practical.

When I am given a job, I make sure to discuss with my client which of these roles he would prefer me to play. For example, if I am hired to take portraits in the studio, in a certain style, with a set number of deliverables and clear visual language, then I will understand this in terms of a design project and adjust my approach accordingly. I can prepare a list of shots, be more strict on the lighting and make sure things like the framing and expression of my subject are consistent.

However, if I am hired for a documentary project, I have more freedom on how I approach the subject. I am hired for documentary work like stills / BTS or wedding photography due to my ability to tell a story through images, using detail, emotion and gesture (among other things) to deliver a series of images that really sums up this point in time for my client. It’s not something I can easily have a list of shots for as things will unfold unpredictably and require quick reactions in order to properly capture events moment to moment.

I can’t rely on consistent lighting or situations, and that means my approach generally comes much closer to the definition of “art” I described earlier.

For my personal photography, which is mostly street photography, I almost never have a clear idea of ​​what to get out of a given day. I can get an idea of ​​a theme I want to explore, but I’ll never know where I will encounter that theme until I do, for a split second, and I have to react to it just as quickly.

I can then curate a selection of images around this theme, and a series can take shape; the images I prepare will be very different from each other and will represent a lot of trial and error, spontaneous decisions and experimentation. This is very different from organizing a set of portraits from a portrait, where at most I will remove the instances where my subject blinked.

I think based on my definitions of the process behind art and design, street and documentary photography can be understood as an artistic process; Even the photographer will not know exactly what the images will look like and in what situations they will even be photographing.

Whether or not the final product looks like a work of art or design is almost irrelevant to this discussion – it’s the most subjective discussion to have around specific pieces, and not something that can really be learned by someone looking to change their methodology and approach.

I’m happy to call what I do an art, and I’m always happy when I feel like I’m spending time absorbed in the process of photography, rather than worrying about the end result. When I spend too much time on a composition or curating it can start to look like a design piece, and I’m generally less proud of these in general – they represent a different kind of difficult, than I do. not appreciate. right now for myself, not where I want to advance my work.

About the Author

Simon King is a London-based photographer and photojournalist who is currently working on a number of long-term street photography and documentary projects. You can follow her work on Instagram and read more of her thoughts on photography on her personal blog. Simon also gives a short course in street photography at UAL, which you can read here. This article was also posted here and shared with permission.



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