Former newspaper and more recently street and advertising photographer Nick Turpin has proposed using the hashtag #canpubphoto – standing for ‘candid public photograph’ – online “to cut through the increasing ambiguity of the phrase ‘Street Photography’” and he explains why at his newly-launched website, Candid Public Photography.
There is merit in this. I did not use the term ‘street photography’ when I began making candid photographs in public places years ago and have never described myself as a ‘street photographer’.
For the first couple of decades working on personal projects fitting the definition of ‘candid public photographs’, doing so was criticized in the local art community on the basis that is was not creative.
It was further criticized under the belief that I made my candid public photographs by carefully casting the people depicted in them and then painstakingly arranging them and directing them before clicking the shutter. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Another criticism levelled was that I made the city in which I lived, in its innermost eastern suburb, and the streets upon which I walked each and every day, loving and knowing every crack and paving stone like the back of my hand, look like other cities in the western world. Newsflash: cities around the world have been looking similar to each other for decades.
Recently I have seen comments about some of my candid photographs depicting people out and about in public as being ‘street portraits’. I beg to differ.
A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.
My main line of paid work for a while was magazine editorial portraiture and Wikipedia’s definition fits, whereas a candid snapshot of someone passing by with their attention on something occurring in front of them is not a portrait, street or otherwise.
I have made personal photographs of the streets of the city in which I lived, and ‘street photography’ may describe that activity well enough but less so for what I have long referred to as urban documentary, or more simply as photographing everyday life.
Mr Turpin’s suggestion has merit.