street photography - chris hilton

Does street photography really have to be quite so aggressive?



Where to even begin? There have been so many photographers that have captured life on the streets but a personal favourite of mine has always been Robert Doisneau and I suppose that it is through him that I discovered that love of the quirky. His pictures of Paris between the wars speak to me of joy.

Doisneau took one of my favourite photographs 'Le Regard Oblique'. He set his camera up in the shop, planted the picture on the wall, hid himself from view and waited, like a spider in his web ... the results were spectacular but these days, someone somewhere, would call them 'fake' because the situation was manufactured. But the image speaks so loudly, it has so much emotion in it that it travels for the best part of a hundred years to the here and now and makes the viewer grin! And that makes this photo more real than most I have ever seen!

A contemporary of (and, indeed, an inspiration for) Doisneau was Brassai ... he once said ' I was on a quest for the peotry of the fog that transforms things, the poetry of the night that transforms the city, the poetry of time that transforms all creatures.'

Of course, there have always been people that did it differently; the king of the flashgun was an American ambulance chasing photographer called WeeGee who worked NYC's Lower Eastside in the 30's & 40's.

Bruce Gilden is another advocate of this style (minus the ambulances) but the man making waves at the moment is Dougie Wallace. His project Harrodsburg involves him pushing a ring flash into the faces of the rich and not so famous around Knightsbridge. And whilst the style is aggresive, he can probably be forgiven because he has stayed around the area long enough to produce a body of work that actually says something. It has transcended the rather meaningless tag of 'street photography' and become something more.

It is an essay in excess ... and in that, it is very successful.

The problem comes with the hoi polloi ... the vast majority of photographers merely ape what they have seen ... they learn the technicalities of the craft without studying its soul. Then set about churning out poor imitations of other peoples style.

And it is these people that are popping flashguns into ordinary peoples faces in the vain hope that they are producing 'art' that are simply just pissing people off ... I lament that some of Brassai's poetry has gone  ...

If emerging photographers need to get some pointers the then I wish they would look at the work of Doisneau and Brassai, Bresson and Tony Ray-Jones ...

I strongly suspect they'd enjoy themselves a bit more too ...


Banker's Balls of Steel. Chris Hilton