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Street photography: style is everything

August 24, 2020
street photography style

When we talk about street photography (and art in general) style is everything. Having a personal style means that we can recognize the photographer looking at his photos without reading the name.  It’s not obvious. In my opinion the only way to have a personal style is to photograph what you really like. You have to follow your gut seeking your point of view about this life. Look at other photographers’ works to find inspiration but don’t imitate them, be yourself always. I know it is really difficult and probably you need years to reach “that shape called style”.

street photography style
Henry Cartier Bresson

But what is style in photography? In my opinion it is one of the most important thing if you want to be an artist. Yes I’m talking about street photography as art, I’m not interested in reportage and photojournalism. Style is a combination between “content and form” at the same time. “Content” is about subjects and scenes; in his famous book “la chamber claire” Roland Barthes talks about the studium and the punctum to define the content. “Form” is aesthetics, it is about composition, exposure, tilting, optical distortions and so on… It depends on more technique aspects like shutter speed, lens, depth of field and post-production (color, bw…). A photo that has form without content is a dead photo. A photo with content without form is still potentially interesting but it may miss the final result, the visual impact. I’ve talked about the importance of relationship between content and form in an article about Giorgio De Chirico’s paintings.


Finding your style in photography: practical examples

To better explain the relationship between content and form in photography we can think to other practical examples. I can say that a good photo is like a good book: story (content) is as important as the way it is told (form). A good movie must have a great screenplay but also a good cinematography and acting.

If we look at art like painting we can find the same concept of style. You can easily recognize a Van Gogh from a Picasso or Monet. Simply because each painter has his personal and unique style: again content plus form. Each man is different from others, so each artist must have a different view of life. In photography (and art) you can look at other photographers to find inspiration from their works; but don’t try to simply imitate them because you’ll be a simple copy. Photography is personal, it’s your soul, it’s you and your essence as human being. Think also to cinema; Quentin Tarantino loves Sergio Leone‘s movies. He was inspired by the spaghetti western genre directed by the great Italian director. But at the end of the day Tarantino has his personal and unique style made of wonderful and realistic dialogues, suspence and violence. These elements are different from Sergio Leone’s cinema, because Tarantino is Tarantino and Leone is Leone.

street photography style
Bruce Gilden, Magnum Photos

Looking to street photography each great master has his particular style characterizing his body of work. I wrote more about this in a previous article that you can find at this link. Henry Cartier Bresson for example was interested in the “decisive moment” using a 50mm lens without entering in the scene. While at the same time a modern photographer as Bruce Gilden (probably influenced by William Klein) uses very wide angle-lens putting a flash in face of people on the streets. He is aggressive and intrusive at the same time.

Street photography having a personal style: the key

The only way to have your voice in street photography is to have a personal style taking pictures of what you really like, asking yourself why you take photos of particular kind of subjects in that way. Ask yourself and find answer by yourself. It’s difficult and tiresome I know. As Bruce Gilden once said “photograph what you are”. Don’t follow people’s tastes to get more followers and likes on Facebook and Instagram. Photograph and edit what you really like, forgive about likes and people’s preferences on the web. Today with social media and online contests it is more difficult to be authentic and don’t care about opinions of other persons. Think to artist like Vincent Van Gogh, no one cared about his paints but he continued to follow his ideas and styles because he listened only himself, his inner voice as artist and human being. Many artists have reached success and fame only post-mortem because they were so genius to create something that probably was made for another era. Think also to secessionism with Klimt in Vienna, impressionism with Monet in France and abstract expressionism with Jackson Pollock in America..

You can read more about style in street photography here

That’s all folks

Stay well, have always light in your life

Best, F.S

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