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From Brueghel to Street Photography: Let's discuss!

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I am currently going back through the articles in ReidReviews.com that I might have missed or rushed through. I remembered an article titled: Street Photography: Part One. What I remembered about it was picture of "Peasants Dancing" in a scene of a painting by Peter Brueghel Flemish painter who in his short 44 years of life, left a legacy that has influenced artists for the next 500 years.

One thing that comes up a lot in chatting with Sean Reid is the respect he has for the craft of certain painters. One of these happens to be an artist I have always admired, Pieter Brueghel, The Elder. I must admit, that in my school we called the guy Peter Bruegel (with no "h") since he was the Bruegel our art teacher kept referring to for design in art. He was a master not only of placing people, but also of the objects which make the scene seem real, when in fact it's anything but.


Children's Games, 1500 Pieter Brueghel (actually he signed his pictures Bruegel, without the "h", just incase you find a painting with the "h" in it, that's one of his offspring!)

I can imagine that more than a few set designers for stage, cinema and opera know every Brueghel painting inside and out by heart!

So I'm not surprised by Sean's love of this resource of fine paintings. What did take me back, at first, was his use of the work to start discussing street photography. I think of single figures caught by a photographer from amongst a crowd, crossing a windy street a couple kissing not the multilayered work that is so very challenging even for the artist who choses what to put in and makes it all to suit his purpose. Still, I am impressed that one can look at so many things at once. To me it's hard to just sample a corner of life amongst all the hustle and bustle!

So here we are in a safe place. You can discuss and think about what you do that you call "Street Photography*". Maybe you have read the article or just love those paintings with so many groups of people each involved in their own mini-world of attention, as if nothing else was occurring. That's what happens in a real street! Maybe go back and reread about Pieter Brueghel's work and then share how this (and if you are a RR subscriber, Sean Reid's article) relates to you own work.

You might relate in different way to street photography and have your own icons to follow. Great, share these ideas. What measures do you have by which you look at plan and enjoy "Street Photography"*?

Happy shooting.

Asher

* "What ever does that mean?", you may ask. Well that is another subject, like "What is a good woman?"!
 

Klaus Esser

pro member
great idea!

Hi Asher!

This is one great idea!
Especially some great b&w photographs i saw over the years indeed had that "Brueghel-feeling".

The one big limitation in photograohy is that you cam only photograph what´s there. I always was envious about the freedom of a painter to create what´s in his mind.

So photographers have to work with visual metaphors - and light, contrast and color/b&w.

Some really great photographs can transport something "behind" the picture - and even make me feel unreal, dreamlike or whatever one could name it. As it is with Brueghels paintings.

Again: great idea of yours to see the aspect of "street-photography" in this kind of pinting.

It´s a base for very interesting discussions, i feel . . . :)

best, Klaus
 

Sean Reid

Moderator
Hi All,

As I discuss at the start of that article, I use the term "street photography" (quotes emphasized) because I agree with Garry Winogrand that there really is no such thing. Looking at painters such as Breughel, Daumier, etc. however can help to place this kind of work in a context. In essence, much of what we call "street photography" takes as its subject people, the photographer's contemporaries, in public places. A lot of this work ends up being, at least in part, about figures in the landscape (or the set, as Asher suggests and as I've written in other articles). Getting away from a vague term like "street photography" can potentially help us to look at just what exactly we're trying to make in these kinds of pictures.

It would definitely be helpful if people read the article before the discussion just so we don't end up restating certain things that are already discussed there. With that common ground, I'm interested in seeing where this discussion may lead.

The artists used as examples in that article include: Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, Josef Koudelka, Breughel the Elder, Daumier, Utamaro, Kertesz, and Tiepolo. So, anyone interested in this discussion might want to look again at work by those artists.

Cheers,

Sean
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
It would definitely be helpful if people read the article before the discussion just so we don't end up restating certain things that are already discussed there. With that common ground, I'm interested in seeing where this discussion may lead.

The artists used as examples in that article include: Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, Josef Koudelka, Breughel the Elder, Daumier, Utamaro, Kertesz, and Tiepolo. So, anyone interested in this discussion might want to look again at work by those artists.
O.K., how do I say this. First if you are well educated in art appreciation and art history then you will "get it" immediately without reading anything about these artists. Even if we are not so familiar with how great artists and photographers have approached people activity/presence in the public domain you will do well in this discussion.

How's that? If you think about it, all our opinions, desires and wishes don't come from DNA! No it's the human experience in our societies that gets internalized and burned into our brains, as part of our common cultural heritage! When we express "ourselves" in art we are externalizing not only our original ideas but a good part of societies gifts to us. And what are these? I think much is all the iconography stolen from others. Well maybe not actually stolen but at least copied, plagarised, imitated, paid homage to or otherwise emulated. We see this in so many movies, plays, operas and advertisements that we will immediately "get it" and "catch up" with discussion when exposed to a nidus of material to bring our minds to what we already know but have no easy link to.

So how does one refresh one's brain?

So my suggestion is to either look up a few of these great artists for fun. Maybe pickup that art history book catching dust or those photography books on your living room table for guests.

The other idea is that the subscription to ReidReviews.com (which I have had for years* (no free membership like other guys have :) ).

In any case, let's get up to speed and see what inspirations, ideas, cultural expectations and more guide us in what we choose to like and what images we try to make in "Street Photography".

Asher

*Why do I subscribe when I have so much to do in OPF, a busy shooting schedule and more? It's simply because Sean has invested a lot of thought in his unique perspective (which you may or may not buy into, but) which for sure will challenge you to do better in making your own images valuable at least to yourself. If you join because of me and hate it, don't value the reviews on Canon lenses or RF cameras or commentaries, I will personally refund your money if you happen to join today or tomorrow! That's for only the 2 persons! :) I'll take the risk since I doubt anyone would need to call me on my promise!
 
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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
This is one great idea!
Especially some great b&w photographs i saw over the years indeed had that "Brueghel-feeling".

The one big limitation in photograohy is that you can only photograph what´s there. I always was envious about the freedom of a painter to create what´s in his mind.

So photographers have to work with visual metaphors - and light, contrast and color/b&w.

Some really great photographs can transport something "behind" the picture - and even make me feel unreal, dreamlike or whatever one could name it. As it is with Brueghels paintings.

Again: great idea of yours to see the aspect of "street-photography" in this kind of pinting.

It´s a base for very interesting discussions, i feel . . . :)

best, Klaus
So Karl,

Why don't you kick this off with the pairing of some images and paintings as an example.

Asher
 

Chris Kresser

New member
Hi All,

The artists used as examples in that article include: Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, Josef Koudelka, Breughel the Elder, Daumier, Utamaro, Kertesz, and Tiepolo. So, anyone interested in this discussion might want to look again at work by those artists.
Sean,

There are three Tiepolos listed in the Web Gallery of Art. Which are you referring to?

Chris
 

Tim Ashley

Moderator
The one big limitation in photograohy is that you cam only photograph what´s there. I always was envious about the freedom of a painter to create what´s in his mind.
Hi Klaus,

I almost agree with you! if you were to state 'you should only photograph what's there' it would be closer to the work I most like to make and to appreciate others' having made. But there are plenty of people, Greg Crewdson being the most obvious, who set scenes like a film maker or indeed a painter.

I guess I feel that there are two different skills, each complex and valid: one is to imagine a message, clear or ambiguous, simple or many-layered, then imagine the scene that might convey the message(s), then create that scene in order to photograph it. That's what Crewdson does and IMHO in end effect what Bruegel did. The other, more akin to being a hunter than a gardener, is to go out with your eyes peeled and look for interesting stuff with which to fill your canvas, relying on what you find and the way in which you observe it to create your message or narrative.

A classic thing you see on DPreview is posts called 'Street Shots with XYZ Camera'. People get a new camera, hear that shooting 'street' is hip, and then go and take pictures of people or things or animals or whatever they find on the street. To me, that's not 'street' photography. This is a very personal definition but when I make the sort of work I call street, my own requirement of it is that there has to be some addition, by ME, of observational commentary however subtly stated. In other word it's my job not just to go 'click' but to find a moment and an angle and a framing that invites the viewer to make a connection between elements of the scene. Otherwise, it's just urban landscape.

For copyright reasons I can only use my own work to demonstrate the point, which is a pity cos there are clearly a zillion far better examples around! So I make no claims for these images other than they fulfil my own criteria for 'street'!

Here's an example with no people:



This qualifies, for me, because it takes elements that I found 'in the wild' and arranged only by moving myself and framing. And the observation is pretty clear: strip down a man's mind and you find a stripped down woman.


Next example:


This one takes the relationship between the old man walking painfully and slowly, and the cartoon fit guy. The numbers '89' and '91' and their progression, and the word 'dream', back up the story.

Sometimes the observation can be more quirky and quite possibly evident only to the photographer:


This one is part of a series which is all about masks, literal and metaphorical, and there's lots of stuff in the wider series about how the city of Venice and its inhabitants use the mask both historically and currently. The point of this particulate shot (to me at least!) is that the un-costumed man is pulling his lip into a frown that matches the shape of the mask on the costumed man. So, like the town of Venice during Carnevale, he is wearing a mask without actually wearing a mask.

The next on is tricky:


It looks like a straight and possibly slightly boring shot of a bright subject but actually it's the pivotal image in the entire series because it's the one that most clearly says 'take of my mask and you'll just find another one'.

Which raises another point, being that sometimes the 'piece of work' is the series itself, not the individual image. I would certainly count that series of shots in Venice as a 'street' work by my definition even though certain shots within it would not pass muster as stand alone pieces.

----please see next post for continuation-----
 

Tim Ashley

Moderator
So, what isn't street? For me, the fact that it's pretty or even interesting and that it is unposed and takes place in public is not enough. This is a nice enough shot:

But I, as the photographer, haven't added anything to it other than a bit of compositional eye and some timing.

Finally, some dogs. The first one just about might meet my definition and I post it cos it makes me smile! The second one (sorry to have posted it here before) meets my definition more clearly because of the interaction between the dog's sad expression and locked in state, and the message on the sign.







So that's a highly personal view on what makes an image 'street' to me. I'm no Winogrand (clearly) but I do think there are differences between animals and human animals in the way they can be observed as they interact with their environments and I also think that for me at least there is a thing called 'street' and that it can involve animals of any chromosomal hue! Just as long as the image is 'found' and not 'constructed' in any way other than by angle, position and framing.


Best

Tim
 
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