Street photography, I think many have pointed out, is recognizable more by its spirit than its environmental setting. Whether on a street, in a subway car, a grocery store, a beach, a forest, a corporate press conference—what really defines street photography is its spirit.
And what could the spirit of street photography be? The ambiguity of its intentions, or the dissonance of witnessing and not understanding, or the signifying that a moment irrelevant to the world at large and largely inconsequential is both immediate, real, and striking, even possibly significant in some abstract way.
But my thinking is biased… I think part of what elevates street over other types of photography and even other art such as painting is that it seems somehow less arbitrary, more real. Rather than creating fictions, street photos highlight that which really exists unto itself, subjects with separate intention and autonomy. To work in this genre is to edit from the world, to not create something from nothing but to find something: a true artifact that is capable of showing things beyond its author’s imagination. That’s why street is… easy to justify. Why did I take the picture? Because the thing was there at the same time I was.
And what about manipulation? It’s sort of a contradiction of all those lyrical interpretations if I’m going and meddling with the end product isn’t it? It’s like raving about the all natural fresh veggies before nuking them in the microwave.
The picture above is warped, manipulated in many ways, both by the camera’s software, the photo editor’s various ways of interpreting a photograph—from how it renders color to how it adjusts for optical shortcomings of the lens, and also by my extreme meddling with sliders in post. But I guess subtle and automatic lens corrections aren’t really on the same level as actively going nuclear with manual distortion correction controls.
Still, why not warp if I think it adds to the picture? What if I had shot this with an 8mm fisheye and got distortion as extreme as I created with the distortion correction sliders? Is it a matter of poor sportsmanship?Bad taste? Low morals? Is a heavily manipulated or composited camera-produced image still photography?
For me, I generally don’t manipulate heavy-handedly, certainly not like the case of the bus above. In time I’ve felt it’s just not worth the hassle of moving pixels around. And to that end, I just started to process my raw files with Capture One instead of Adobe as I find it requires much less time moving sliders and adjusting color. Less work=more pictures.
But I did make a handful of manipulated pictures back in 2014, the most significant of which is “Headed Uptown”, which I released into the world without a thought of whether it was okay to present a heavily composited photo without a disclaimer. I am still unsure about that. On one hand, since learning how many seem to feel strongly that compositing is a transgression, I have felt compelled to err on the side of disclosure so none of my friends feel had. On the other, I feel like it is essentially apologizing for something I ultimately don’t find disqualifying myself—I am an artist more than I am a journalist, the decisive moment was my recognition of this image upon reviewing two separate exposures, and the exacting craftwork it took to realize my vision bares the persistent spirit I take to the streets.
I’ll be honest though, this kind of picture doesn’t excite me much anymore—it’s the Marvel Comics movie of street photos and I’d rather watch Taxi Driver. The black and white and even the square crop are highly unusual for me. Even the fact that it’s composited is an aberration. But at the time it just kind of begged to be made. If you look at the work I am doing now, it is very different in form and content, and I go for the barest color processing.
But still I share “Headed Uptown” because at the end of the day it’s a striking image that scratches some primal ocular itch. It also gets a huge response compared to much of my straight work, and I’m not immune to those effects. It helps the stuff that I really like be seen, and I appreciate that. I hope to share weirder and weirder work with more and more eyes, Marvel Man be damned.