Street Photography: Success Vs Meaning; Which Wins?

Street photography has its highs and lows. Success is not a guarantee; the relationship you have with the craft, however, is a constant.

Okay, let’s get personal. 2018 has been an extremely intense year for me, both personally and professionally. From reconnecting with my Dad after 10 years, quitting my job, through to coming away from an unhealthy relationship. Professionally, I feel I have taken my street photography to the next level and have had success to show for it. There are two images that have stood out for me in 2018, both for completely different reasons. One is an image that has generated the most popularity and success. The other provides me with a deep sense of meaning and has emotional importance.

But which wins? Success Vs Meaning.

How is Success Measured in Street Photography?

If you don’t mind, I am going to put modesty to one side for a moment.

Whilst on the beautiful island of Caye Caulker, just off the east coast of Belize, I took a photograph which I knew instantly would blow up. It had everything. Amazing colour, strong composition, several narratives that all complemented each other. It was the kind of photograph that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, wow it feels good.

Here it is…

When we measure success in street photography, there are several factors that we can look at. The first is the reaction on social media. Likes and engagement are a big deal today. When I posted this image to my Instagram, notifications went through the roof. Comments flooded in telling me how strong this photograph was. Across all social media, nothing has come close to the positive reaction this image received.

Secondly, we can look at publications. This image has been featured in several blogs and online magazines. It was also featured in the UK edition of The Guardian, earning me $260!

“It was the kind of photograph that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, wow it feels good.”

Finally, we look at print sales. I have been selling prints for just short of two years. It is hard. Very hard. Sure, I have had minor success here and there. But nothing compared to the demand I had for this image. I have shipped this image to more people than I have sold the rest of my prints collectively. Before I put it up for sale people were asking me if they could have it in print. It really has been insane.

Just to put my ego into perspective for a moment. I have been shooting street for 7 years. Whilst I have had success along the way, this is the first and only time I have had a reaction to a photograph as big as this.

What Does Success Mean to me?

With the positive reaction the above photograph received, it’s natural to assume I love the photograph. Honestly, I don’t. I don’t hate it and of course, I have enjoyed the manner in which it has been received. But I don’t love it.

Objectively, I like the photograph. I know it’s technically strong and I understand why people are so fond of it. However, street photography is so much deeper than that.

The photos we take can be a reflection of how we feel. There is no brief on the streets. No studio lights, no make up artist, no attractive model happy to stay in one position for 4 hours.  Street photography is raw, candid, emotionally fueled art. And when emotions lead the way, that is when true, deep, personal meaning is shown in our work.

Let’s get really personal…

Love Fuels Creativity

3 months ago my partner and I decided to end our relationship. This relationship was fire, full of intense emotion from beginning to end. The feelings generated from that kind of connection don’t just disappear the moment you say goodbye. They are like a drug, when consumed often, your body begins to need them. I’m not ashamed to say I crashed – hard.

During this time street photography has not been a want, it has been a need. It has been my constant crux keeping me up, keeping me going. My mental state has been so vulnerable, from strength to weakness, whilst I have been shooting street photography of late. My brain is asking me to provide it with a substance that is no longer there. As I become cynical, too frightened by the deep journey love takes you on to ever want to go through it again, I see something. I see this…

I took this image whilst exploring Spain. In my drug withdrawal state of mind, as I experienced all the pain and torture associated with love, I connect to this scene. It was important because if only for a moment, it reminded me of the gentle, deep meaningful alignment two people can have. Instead of rejecting future opportunities to fall again, I look at this image and think – one day.

The emotional response the photograph gives me greatly outweighs the response provided by its more successful opponent.

What Wins?

I will always stand by the notion that street photography can only be practised out of a true love for the craft. The moments we identify with on the streets are often a representation of who we are and where we are in life. Likes, publications, money – they all have their place in making you feel good about your work. But the rush they give you doesn’t last for long, as to be consistent, you need to move on to the next.

“During this time street photography has not been a want, it has been a need. It has been my constant crux keeping me up, keeping me going.”

But an image that grips you emotionally, one that creates a deep meaningful reaction through your body and mind. That image will give you a feeling that will last you a lifetime.

Success is important, but meaning wins.

Dan Ginn is a UK based street photographer and writer. Learn more about him via his website and Instagram.