According to Melissa Miles, “street photography is circulating in ever more limited fields” (2015, 290). Critically discuss the broader impacts of increasing restrictions on photography in public spaces. Your essay should refer to both the history of street photography and to contemporary debates about privacy and photography in public spaces.
Weekly Readings to include:
- Photography, privacy and the public – Melissa Miles
- Repopulating the Street: Contemporary Photography and Urban Experience – Rosemary Hawker
- Eye on the street photography in urban places – Jennifer Tucker
- Private lives, public places: Street photography – A.D. Coleman
Street Photography: History and Evolution
Photography has always been one of the finest forms of art ever present in the history of threw world. It is not just about capturing the moments into phenomenal photographs but also about the way to express the feelings and thoughts of the subject and the photographer alike and about recollecting memories by different people (Demand 2016). Photographs often account to the memories that are created by individuals, which are captured using an electronic or non-electronic device called the camera. With regards to these facts, photography has been classified into various types and segments depending on their style of work. Amongst the various types of photography, one of the most popular forms is called street photography. This paper critically analyses a statement by Melissa Miles and investigates the relevance of the statement in the present times regarding photography in the streets.
The concept of street photography is a particular genre that is best comprehended as a response of opportunity by the artist of the camera to the public scene in front of him (Blanché 2015). Street photography is defined as capturing the interactions happening by chance or deliberation and the activities by the humans within the confinements of urban areas. However, unlike the concept of documentary photography, the generalized content of the scene or its exact location are irrelevant. The factor that is considered is the creative quality of the shot. The perceptions and the timing contribute to two such factors. In other words, the true art of street photography is established from the vision of the artist and the timing of clicking the photograph.
The difference between street and documentary photography was not properly understood in the earlier centuries in the history of photography. The photographer Charles Bossu is majorly known for his work on Parisian architectures before they were cleared out by the urban planner Baron Haussmann. Another photographer Eugene Atget was n ote3d for his photographs for the disappearance of Parisian architecture towards the end of the nineteenth century. They were known as two of the great photographers of the era who had an account of the architecture and life of the era through their photographic work. However, their works did not constitute to portray the daily life of the people and thus cannot be termed as street photography. They would rather be termed as documentary photography.
It is believed by the experts that street photography originated in the work of Alfred Stieglitz, for example “Winter, Fifth Avenue” and “The Terminal” (Werge 2018). Even though these were great pieces of work that carried great artistic value, they cannot be classified as street photography because of the usage of natural elements including smoke, rain and snow. All of these elements held a great artistic value and the reason why they held only artistic value, was why they could not qualify as street photographs. Rather, they were termed as documentary photographs also because of the fact that the way they were captured portrayed the aim of the photographers, which was definitely not street photography.
Contemporary debates on privacy and photography in public spaces
It was during the 1920s and 1930s that many photographers had a significant influence on the development of street photography (Cadava 2018). Some of the best works of photographic art came into existence during that era with a number of nocturnal photographs of the urban areas of Paris, the capital of France were published. The aesthetics of street photography were explained during this time which helped people distinguish between documentary photography and street photography. It was stated that street photography deals with an aspect called “the decisive moment,” which helps in the creation of the photograph. The decisive moment is defined as the period when if the photograph is captured, can be used to portray or create a story out of the photograph. According to Cartier-Bresson (Hingorani 2016), intuition and spontaneity constitute as the chief and perhaps the most important components of creative street photography.
Street photography today has evolved from being an exhibition of art to a profession and documentation of the daily lives of the people residing in the cities and towns. Significantly, street photography is limited to the urban areas only and that accounts to the exclusiveness of it. The modern era has witnessed a change in the format in street photography along with a significant increase in the number of street photographers who actively document the daily lives of the people with a tinge of creativity and the perfect timing (Silverman 2017). This situation has also generated problems in the society such as the increase in voyeurism and intervention in the privacy of people. This is why the governments and establishments have imposed some restrictions (Belov-Belikov 2017) on the photography in public places. However, the increase in restriction on street photography can have a negative impact on the society in terms of violation of fundamental rights. According to Melissa Miles in her book “The Culture of Photography in Public Place,” the restrictions are the reason why street photography is getting limited to certain fields and the purpose of expression of art is also getting restricted.
According to a report by the newspaper The Guardian (Hagan 2018), the significant reasons for the restriction of street photography are the anxieties of the population about privacy, terrorism, harassment and pedophilia. This has definitely had a negative impact on the art of photography because it limits the pioneers of this art into limited spaces to practice, execute and exhibit their art. The reasons that are stated by Melissa Miles (Miles 2015) in her book “The Culture of Photography in Public Places” are quite similar to the above mentioned ones. According to the journal by Jennifer Tucker (Tucker 2012), the public spaces in the urban areas are not just a matter of subject for photography. They are the gold mines for the photographers who navigate through the streets in search of political and socially meaningful content. She takes an insight into the urban practices and photographical spaces and identifies some of the enduring themes through the history. She also analyzes the technical challenges relating to the access and surveillance that are associated with the art. A mere exploration of the several different appropriations of the public places for photography portrays that a walk on the streets of the city has not only been a grave subject for the fine art of photography, but it also has been one of the primary conditions historical in nature.
Impacts of Restrictions on Street Photography
Acquiring the facts from the arguments regarding the restrictions in the photography on the streets, the contemporary photography can be viewed and was viewed by the scholar Rosemary Hawker in her journal (Hawker 2013). The photographical map has gone through a thorough evolution from the modernist era to the present. The author of the journal states that contemporary photography often shows the city as intriguingly empty and still. The evolution of the art of photography becomes visible in this way from the modernist to the post modernist era. She states the importance of understanding the process of urbanization to explain and understand the relations that are played out through the trope of photography.
However, there are several ethics of the art of photography at the streets, which should be kept in mind at all times as stated by A. D Coleman (Coleman 1987). Street photography might be a medium of expression for the art form of those capturing the moments but like several aspects of art and life, there should be ethics in that as well. The first and foremost ethic as stated by the scholar include respecting the privacy and consent of the unsuspecting individuals whose photographs are captured (Milbrandt 2016). The individuals who act as the subjects knowingly or unknowingly must have the knowledge and consent of the activity, however spontaneous it might be.
Photography is a medium of expression and the freedom of expression is a fundamental right that every individual and citizen residing in any country of the world possess. There have been arguments even in the legal sector whether the right to privacy is violated if a subject is photographed at a public place (Clark 2017). This is because the argument is in direct conflict with the freedom of speech and expression. In addition, the law also argues that there is no right to privacy in the public. According to the law (Parent 2017), privacy is defined as the state or condition of freedom from being observed or even disturbed by other individuals. According to this definition, there should not be any privacy involved in public spaces and they can be photographed freely. However, it is illegal to photograph people in public spaces where they expect the minimal level of privacy, for example, public baths.
The restrictions to photography in public places definitely have an impact on the expression of the art form by limiting it to certain spaces which in turn can generate a repetition of concepts and a blockage of new ideas of creativity (Milbrandt 2016). Therefore, the restriction in the name of privacy has a negative impact on the artistic front of expression rather than the commercial aspect of the art.
Belov-Belikov, A., 2017. Contemporary street photography. Its plave between art and documentary in the era of digital ubiquity (Master's thesis).
Blanché, U., 2015. Street Art and related terms: Discussion and working definition. Street Art & Urban Creativity Scientific Journal. Methodologies for Research, 1(1), pp.32-39.
Cadava, E., 2018. Words of light: theses on the photography of history. Princeton University Press.
Clark, C.E., 2017. The Commercial Street Photographer: The Right to the Street and the Droit à l’Image in Post-1945 France. Journal of Visual Culture, 16(2), pp.225-252.
Coleman, A.D., 1987. Private lives, public places: Street photography ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 2(2), pp.60-66.
Demand, A., 2016. 1? Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism?. Postmodernism: a reader, p.38.
Hawker, R., 2013. Repopulating the Street: Contemporary Photography and Urban Experience. History of Photography, 37(3), pp.341-352.
Hingorani, M., 2016. Into The Technicalities of Photography: An EXIF Data Exploration.
Milbrandt, T., 2016. The culture of photography in public space edited by Anne Marsh, Melissa Miles and Daniel Palmer.
Milbrandt, T., 2016. The culture of photography in public space edited by Anne Marsh, Melissa Miles and Daniel Palmer.
Miles, M., 2015. Photography, Privacy and the Public. Law, Culture and the Humanities, 11(2), pp.270-293.
O'Hagan, S. (2018). Why street photography is facing a moment of truth. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/18/street-photography-privacy-surveillance.
Parent, W.A., 2017. Privacy, morality, and the law. In Privacy(pp. 105-124). Routledge.
Silverman, H.J., 2017. Postmodernism: Philosophy and the arts. Routledge.
Tucker, J., 2012. Eye on the street: photography in urban public spaces. Radical History Review, 2012(114), pp.7-18.
Werge, J., 2018. The evolution of photography. BoD–Books on Demand.
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