Peter Feldhaus of The Sonic Blog thankfully undertakes to write a series on street photography. The first two installments have already been published: Street photography today and Street Photography Communities. Since I’ve been approaching this genre, gradually …

Woman on the phone

… secretly behind your backs, as it were …

… I’m very glad about Peter’s initiative. It is really worthwile to study the work of the photographers Peter mentioned and to browse the sites of the street photographers’ communities.

The question which interests me most, though – as soon as I have solved the practical question how to be bold enough to start – is this:

What constitutes a good street photograph?

If street photography is all to to with the famous ‘moment’, if technical aspects remain in the background – who is going to save us from the arbitrariness of a street scene chosen at random?

Let’s start by looking at my photo above.: Why do I find it’s rather well done?

  • The hand with the cigarette held out is counterweighed by the left leg held slightly askew
  • the diagonal lines suggested by the woman’s left leg and right arm are counterweighed by the vertical lines of the phone posts, but what is more:
  • you don’t see what she holds in her left hand: an address book? a purse?
  • Does she want to make a phone call? Has she just made it? Does she wonder whether to call her lover and break with him over the phone? –> you might say the photograph would like to tell a story but isn’t allowed to.
  • the image triggers emotions, an aspect which is very important to me in photography. Not in the sense of emotional advertising (‘well, this campaign is so emotional!’) but in the sense of an emotion which grows stronger, the longer one looks at a photograph, an emotion which may be expressed as questions, amazement, curiosity …

Often, I like street photography when there are disparate elements combined in a touching or funny way. This is the case, for instance, with the work of Jeffrey Ladd which is just being featured on the community iN-Public.

I also like photograph where, on looking closely, you discover relationships between people, between things, or between people and things. Like in my photo where there seems to be a relationship between the woman and the two telephone poles.

What do you feel when looking at good, bad or ugly street photography? Are you conscious of criteria of excellence? What preferences or aversions do you have?