The famous street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (photo above of Henri Matisse by HCB, 1944) said that his passion for photography derived in part from "capturing in the fraction of a second the emotion of a subject.” I couldn't agree more. There are probably dozens of photographic genres and hybrids of genres from wedding and portaiture to products to fashion. Yet, my passion is a subset of documentary / photojournalism more commonly known as Street Photography (SP). Cartier-Bresson was one of the forerunner’s of this photographic style, which has as its calling card candid, spontaneous representations of its subjects. When well done, the photo should be capable of telling its own story, and with incredible poignancy. There is not style of photography I find more compelling.
Despite the name, SP has nothing to do with streets or urban areas per se. The name derived from photographers such as Cartier-Bresson who were embracing the advent of portable (35 mm) cameras, which allowed them to take to the streets, so to speak, to capture day to day society, be it in homes, cafes or streets. Simultaneously, the emerging art movement at the time (Surrealism) underscored the idea that there was much unintended information to be discovered and appreciated in the spontaneous capture of a subject. We take much of this for granted today, but at the time it was novel and intriguing.
My point in this post is not to glorify early photographers who helped to create the style because that has been done ad infinitum, but rather to shine some light on contemporary photographers who I feel represent the soul of the style and have taken it to new levels. My minor addiction to Flickr has allowed me to seek out a network of photographers who I feel epitomize the just how good SP can be, two of whom are Telenous (photos above) and Raffee (photos below). Both photographers have a true signature to their work. I envy them in this regard because I don't feel that I've fully found mine yet, but it's coming. Telenous has a very cinematic feel to his work. His entire stream is impressive. I told him in a testimonial that I wished only that he produced more work to view. SP is often shot in black and white, as are these photo samples, which in my opinion helps to create the mood and tension of the shot. B&W eliminates the distraction of color. The viewer is left with a real emotive image. The image is either well done or it's not, but there's no crutch of color to lean on.
Raffee is based in Paris. He shoots mostly with Leica film cameras and fast lenses. His series on his friend Jordane (above and below) is powerful and sensual, as is much of his work. What I appreciate in this photo above is the movement. The subject is framed off-center. Her hair is swinging into her face. It looks as though she was running and paused to look back. This is visceral. It has a wonderful tension to it underscored by the contrast in black and white. She addresses the camera, yet she's not modeling for it.
What SP brings to the viewer is an emotion not captured in other photographic genres, or I would even argue other artistic genres. To continue with HCB's thought from above, I feel that it is only through the photographic medium that you can capture emotion like this. There is nothing else fast enough. In order to catch a fleeting emotional moment, you need to a) be present at the time it happens and b) have the right tools - a camera.
There are many other photographers whose work I anticipate regularly. Please take a look at their photostreams: Tommy Oshima, Ping Lin, and Ghost.