Although minimalist street photography isn’t a new concept, it has seen a rise in popularity over the past few years. With that I ask, are we mistaking minimalism for lazy photography?
Let me tell you, I love minimalism. Honestly, I love everything about it. From minimalist living to minimalist spending, I’m someone who has been caught up in the buzz that has come our way over the past few years. And, of course, I love minimalist street photography. But as that sub-genre grows, I’ve started to think about why so many street photographers dig it too. And whilst it has been great for the scene, I’m also wondering if it is doing some harm.
What is Minimalist Street Photography?
If, for some reason you’ve missed the minimalist buzz in street photography, it looks something this…
As you can see there isn’t much going on in the scene. It’s very scaled back from physical components and it comes with no real story to tell. But, it has balance, interesting composition and that pop of red gives it a powerful aesthetic. So, in short, one could say minimalist street photography is the practice of saying enough without saying too much – photographically speaking.
Critiques of this approach argue that it’s easy to do. I disagree. Minimalism isn’t about having as little as possible in the frame. It’s about having one or two powerful components that can hold the viewer for a good period of time. There’s also the phycology behind minimalist street photography. For me, at least, to do it properly you need to project a feeling of calm and balance. It should come with that feeling of deep satisfaction that you get from viewing something so well put together.
Although there may not be a lot in the photo, there are a lot of things to think about when making it.
My Criticism of Minimalist Street Photography
Clearly, I’m an advocate for this kind of practice. However, I do firmly believe that anything we enjoy, create and are passionate about, shouldn’t be free from criticism. My questioning of the craft came about when I was at a street photography club dinner. The usual question of “so, what style of street photography do you shoot?” came up. First of all, let me say this, I really dislike this question. The answer should always be “street photography”. We are so keen to break things down and label ourselves, that we limit what we shoot and I find this so frustrating. In response to the question, someone answered: “I’m exclusively a minimalist street photographer” – yes he was wearing a beanie in hot weather and yes he was eating a pear as he answered.
I was interested in why someone would limit themselves. After a little back and forth with him, I came to the conclusion he was just lazy. I told him that, which was probably not the best approach but, meh!
Push and push until you can’t push no more and your body of work will surely benefit from it.
And here is why I believe it to be lazy. Although not easy to do, minimalist street photography can sometimes feel like “seen one, seen them all”. There’s no passion, no energy, no story that makes you ask questions and feel deep, meaningful emotions. Those are elements that became the backbone of what street photography was, and is, over decades.
Finding a nice building and waiting for someone to walk past it removes the hunt. It removes the energy of searching hours and hours on end just waiting, hoping, the street will tell a story that will satisfy your creative needs.
Doing something over and over again becomes second nature. Not pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and broadening your portfolio, to me, is just plain lazy.
Don’t be Afraid to Mix it up
Our world is wonderfully diverse. Street photography is the perfect genre for enabling us to document that. One of the things I’m most proud of in my own portfolio is that it dips into all these sub-genres people have wanted to create. Doing this has made me think more, feel more and become better when I’m out shooting street photography.
Don’t be afraid to branch out and feel uncomfortable. Don’t prevent yourself from putting in the hard work, the stress and the failure that comes with this practice. Push and push until you can’t push no more and your body of work will surely benefit from it.
Minimalism has its place in the street photography world. I still enjoy making a good shot using this approach. I do feel it has become so widely practised due to its popularity. Go to any “minimalist street photographers’” Instagram page and you’re going to see thousands of likes. It’s a sure-fire route to fame and those that practice it will likely be running workshops after only shooting for a handful of years – charging a pretty penny too.
But variety in this field is important. I truly believe that. Not just for our personal growth but for the good of the scene in general. So keeping with the spirit of minimalism itself, sure do it…just not too much.