Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: A Critical Look at Street Photography

It is imperative for any street photographer to have sound knowledge of the streets they work within.

Knowing the back roads, the old towns, and the highly populated areas like the back of your hand all contributes to potentially obtaining the maximum artistic quality in your images. Of course it takes time to develop such awareness, something that can only come from an insane amount of walk time. In light of your hard work you may become somewhat of a human encyclopedia, filled with the all the answers to any questions one may have about the street you practice your craft in. But even then, after years of collecting such information, do you really know those beautiful streets as well as you say you do?

A Deeper Relationship with Your Environment

The streets, no matter how captivating, have always been somewhat of the middle child when it comes to street photography. They are loved and everyone knows they are there, but their voices are seldom heard above all of those around them. I ask you to take time to go and give your streets center stage and become acquainted with every element within them. I am almost certain your photography will approve, alongside your patience and ability to analyze a scene. Your streets have a beautiful story to tell, sometimes humans can overshadow that. Remove the people, don’t complicate the frame, and take an opportunity to give a voice to something too often regarded as voiceless.

Ask any street photographer and they will tell you they have had times where they become completely stagnant. Tired of the same old scenes with the same old people, they may withdraw and in result not practice their art for extended periods of time. For me, spending time with the streets themselves rejuvenated my passion to work within them. Slowing down and looking deeper allowed me to notice things that I had never noticed before. Think about that colleague at work. Sure you could share your knowledge of parts of their life; their personality traits and what they did last weekend. Then think about that time you first really got to know them. Maybe you spent the weekend together and your relationship became deeper, more personal, and filled with excitement. This was my experience while spending more time with the streets and all of their components.

People vs Spaces

Traditionally speaking, street photographers center their images around human life. For them anything beyond that is purely a sidekick with a purpose to give more depth to your image, rather than take center stage. I wanted to try looking at things from a different angle, I wanted to look deeper into the aesthetics of what makes up the streets. Rather than connect with people in the streets, I wanted to connect with the streets built by the people.

This wasn’t about taking a photograph of a mind blowing skyscraper, or a mesmerizing cityscape, I will leave that to all the talented architectural photographers. This was about looking at the relationship that color, light, screws and bolts, and wear and tear can have with one another in order to make a captivating street photograph. I wanted to try and understand the mind of the creators of our towns and cities.

The process of this project, albeit a micro project, was much slower than my standard street walk. I would spend 5-10 minutes taking in my surroundings. I would try and identify if a window could compliment a street sign or if a shadow could further extract the marvelous design of the wall it rested on.

Over time I started seeing repetitions, convinced that none of this was by mistake. Take a look at this image as an example…

If you spend a couple of moments reviewing this image, you will see how the two sides of the street in someway mirror each other. The yellow pillars in line with the yellow gates that protect the window. The red pole, a link to the red painted bricks, both separated only by the road between them.

Streets are also a great way to take advantage of good lighting, by using light and shadow to give the image more depth. Take a look:

I found this excellently constructed wall, full of color and texture. I was fortunate that it had great light on it, adding different dimensions to the image. As street photographers we are constantly looking for triangles, lines, and texture. This image has all of those components and I feel adding the human form to the equation would only have complicated matters.

More from Dan Ginn can be found on his website.