Since the major developments in the early 1900s,
the changes through research and development, both technically and physically, have
brought the photography process to new heights. From the first surviving
permanent photograph taken by Nicéphore in 1826 to the introduction of the
digital film by Kodak in 1992, the photography world has continuously transformed.
This essay will investigate the key turning points through the history of
photography exploring how the process became portable and the changes that came
with it, as well as the revolutionary developments of the digital age. It will
also explore and compare some of the most influential street photographers and
photojournalists of both the traditional and contemporary eras.


Since the first surviving
photograph by Nicéphore, landscapes became one of the most frequent subject
themes, with barely any people seen in the photographs – when they are present,
they are distorted or fragmentary. This was due to the restricted amount of
movement accessible with the box camera on a tripod and the lack of the
exposure time available. “For most of the nineteenth century, photography had
been a matter of manipulating a heavy, cumbersome box mounted on a tripod. With
several delays between exposures allowing one picture at a time, it only made a
limited range of subjects available. The advent of small cameras and fast
exposures removed this straightjacket.” (Galassi, 1993: 29)

The arrival of the small hand-held cameras and
colour film gave recognition to the new generation of photographers and
photojournalists whose subject of documentation was no longer limited. The Leica
1 camera became the first commercially successful 35mm camera in 1925 and was a
firm favourite to photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson. When
Cartier-Bresson acquired a Leica in 1932, his work in the following three years
gained him the recognition after pursuing photography passionately and
producing some of his best pictures when travelling in France, Spain and Italy.
“The small camera made it possible for the photographer himself to move.
Liberated from the tripod, the photographer could now pursue the action as it
unfolded.” (Galassi, 1993: 29). From this rise, there became a new emphasis on
spontaneity as Cartier-Bresson famously termed it, “The Decisive Moment”.
(Brougher, 2001). The development and rise in popularity of the Leica camera gave
photographers and photojournalists a new way of working and documenting the
streets. “It provided the street photographer with a cinematic view of the
world. Leica changed the camera into a gun, poised to fire on any number of
moving targets.” (Brougher, 2001). Photographers such as Robert Frank, Nigel
Henderson, William Klein and Roy DeCarava were part of the new surge of street
photographers using the Leica in a completely new approach which gave ‘resultant
images that were considerably different from Cartier-Bresson’s, his graceful
lines and elegant compositions giving way to an almost expressionistic use of
tilted angles, distortion and disjointed elements.’ (Brougher, 2001)



Cartier-Bresson – “The Decisive Moment”

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Cartier-Bresson’s work is widely ‘published in
magazines and a series of books, including rare reports on newsworthy events.’ (Galassi,
1993) Despite some of his most famous photographs that still influence the mass
of photographers now, the ‘Decisive Moment’ is among the history of photography
that will continuously be mainstream and relative to both professional
photographers and novices. The ‘Decisive Moment’ is essentially to do with how
the photographer can achieve the perfect photograph of the instant they had
already anticipated in the surroundings. (Scott, 2007) Cartier-Bresson could be
branded as a master at this skill with fifty years of work as a compilation of unique
‘decisive moments’. As well as a long list of exhibitions to his name, his
first came at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1933. His photographs are
subsequently shown at the Ateneo Club in Madrid. ‘The concept of the decisive
moment, as the instant when the subject matter and compositional form align,
had a massive impact on street photography and its future course.’ (Velimirovi?,
2016: online) “By introducing the idea of the decisive moment, Cartier-Bresson
advocated for spontaneity and intuition as the driving forces of creative
photography, which strongly affected the street subgenre. The works of Henri
Cartier-Bresson and Bressai fundamentally shaped the practice of street
photography after World War 2.'” (Velimirovi?, 2016: online)

“His photographs provided a rather broad
description of a place, its people and culture, and the texture of its everyday
life. It helped create the image of the photojournalist as an alert but
detached observer providing an image that dovetailed neatly with the notion of
the ‘decisive moment’ and in the process limited its meaning.” (Galassi, 1993: 19)
Under the heading of photojournalism, the decisive moment is ‘not only a
pictorial climax that yields a satisfying photograph but also a narrative climax
that reveals a truth about the subject.’ (Galassi, 1993: 19)

Chinese photographer Ying Tang and American
Photographer Gus Powell have debated the difference of a photojournalist
quoting “I call myself a street photographer because I document the lifestyle
of the people on the street. The difference between street photography and
photojournalism is that street photographers
don’t necessarily have a theme to start with or an agenda for taking pictures.”
(Tang, 2010 p.234)

(Gus Powell) “While
photojournalists work on answering questions of who, what, when, where and why,
I am interested in creating more questions.” (Powell, 2010 p.235) (Howarth
& McLaren, 2010 p.234-235)

In recent years,
Cartier-Bresson has suggested that for him photojournalism was ‘little more
than a mask.’ (Galassi, 1993) “For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument
of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms,
questions and decides simultaneously. To give a meaning to the world, one should
feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires
concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry.”
(Cartier-Bresson: online)

‘Composition, detail and fixing geometric
patterns around his chosen subject matters where features Cartier-Bresson
always emphasised the importance of.’ (O’Hagan, 2014: online) The accidental
quality needed to produce the small and rare details in photographs that jumps
out to the viewer. The detail that Roland Barthes would phrase ‘Punctum’.

Barthes key text Camera Lucida brings to light
‘Stadium and Punctum’. ‘Stadium’ entails that even among those photographs
which ‘has some existence in the viewer’s eyes, most provoke only a general and
polite interest.’ (Powell, 2010: online) “They have no punctum in them, they
please or displease you without pricking you. The stadium is of the order of
liking, not of loving. It is that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of
various interest.” (Barthes, 1980: 27) The element that will disturb the
stadium is punctum. “For punctum is also sting, speck, cut, little hole. A
photographs ‘punctum’ is that accident which pricks me. A detail attracts
me. The detail is the punctum.” (Barthes, 1980: 27) ‘Punctum’ is more powerful to the spectator than

‘Gare Saint Lazare’ Place de l’Europe, Paris,
France, 1932, could be considered one of Cartier-Bresson’s most iconic
photographs with the typical and recognisable style focusing on composition and
symmetry as the main components. Although photography has come a long way since the first surviving
photograph, it’s still clear to notice the similarities of the two from the haziness
of the architectural buildings in the background and the natural elements of
light. More
interestingly, the idea of ‘Punctum’ is very apparent with the smaller details
being the centrepieces of the photograph. Seen in the back of the photograph is
another figure that brings the extra ‘sting’. Almost imitating the photographer,
himself, the figure waiting alone for an instant to unfold. The ‘Decisive
Moment’ is the exact second to press the shutter. In this context with how
Cartier- Bresson approaches his photographs, the decisive moment may be better
applied to photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand, who ‘pound
the streets in search of the right convergence of light, action and expression
rather than pattern and geometry.’ (O’Hagan, 2010: online)



In the early seventies, several
photographers changed direction mid-career, from black and white to colour
photography. Joel Meyerowitz began photographing his first photos in the form
of colour slides in 1962 and since, colour in work became more important. The subjects
on the streets changed from incident to overall field photography.
Architecture, light and space now have a new interest. Traditional qualities of
the earlier works of Meyerowitz are carefully composed images with a balanced
harmony of light and colour. This is due to the use of the plate camera, with
which all those details that can be distinguished in reality are given an
equally emphatic presence. Meyerowitz photographs of his home city of New York,
in which he is following the direction of his earlier street photography, only
now in colour, have more attention to architecture space and light. (Barents,
1980: 2) Meyerowitz famously commented that he wanted to make ‘tough’
photographs: “Tough to like, tough to see, tough to make, tough to understand.
The tougher they were the more beautiful they became.” (Howarth & McLaren,
2010: 243) Several key photographers such as ‘Helen Levitt, William Klein, Saul
Leiter, Robert Frank and Joel Meyerowitz authored some of their most renowned
photos between the years of 1940 and 1960.’ (Velimirovi?, 2016: online) ‘Every
single one of them brought something new to the table and helped developed the
genre that was experiencing a significant rise in popularity in those years.’
(Velimirovi?, 2016: online) The social commitment that pervaded the work of
many of these prominent photographers from the early thirties onwards is no
longer to be seen in the photographs of the new era of photographers. In
addition, the flash insight into a situation, the energy and the humour,
familiar from the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, compared to Meyerowitz,
of a different order, they belong to a period that has ended. (Barents, 1980)
An issue that arises through the genre of street photography is the debate over
whether photographers stage the moments in which they then capture. Robert Capa
produced one of the most famous photographs in 1936 of the falling soldier. It
sparked the concern over whether Capa instinctively pressed the shutter at the
perfect time to freeze that moment, or if the soldier created that scene purposely
for that shot. Thirty years on, although technology and subsequently
photography has changed, the discussion continues. Joel Meyerowitz has taken
multiple series of photographs in his home city of New York and throughout
cities in Europe. One photo entitled ‘Paris, France’ continues to bring the
contemporary style but still with references to historical photography.
Similarities to Robert Capa, this photograph has noticeable features that would
suggest that the scene that played out has been recreated. Meyerowitz states
that he wanted to bring his ‘old street habits to bear on something that was
much more than ordinary street life, and yet not quite documentary in any
conventional sense.’ (Howarth & McLaren, 2010: 131) The whole genre of
street photography exploits so many similarities through all styles. The
themes, places, ideas and subject matters suggest that the photographers all
see the world and the place in front of them in the same way.  Figures 5 and 6 show clear examples of how
two photographers strongly consider composition and timings. Perfectly
positioned, they also show the humorous side that comes with street
photography, the expectancy of what you will see when you walk the streets with
the camera, and the unknown details the camera picks up. The street photograph
accepts that the camera sees more than we do, that it is an instrument of
privileged access. (Scott, 2007)

Fifty years between the two images but a
continuous movement from each era.



Figure 6: Joel
Meyerowitz, New York City, 1936


Turpin’s work
offers an insightful social commentary without the heavy-handedness we so often
associate with


documentary. “I didn’t research it like a photojournalist;
I just turned up daily on the streets. For me, pictures made in a shopping
street or business district of a city reveal as much about our world as
pictures made in places of international conflict or famine or environmental
disaster.” (Turpin, 2010: 207-208)

American photographer, Gus Powell shares his
favourite approach to street photography which is a quote from photographer Stephen
McLaren: “A good street photography should tease, puzzle, reveal, stun, provoke
and thrill in equal measure. They should be light in mood but dense in emotion,
hard to read but

easy to enjoy.” (Howarth
& McLaren, 2010: 234-235) Turpin wonders the streets of the busiest public
places waiting for the perfect frame to play out in front of him. With no story
or idea of what he will seek out, Turpin chooses to photograph the things that
fascinate him on that specific day. Considered one of his most successful
photographs, ‘Trading Life, London’ not only shows comparisons to itself but to
works since the beginning of street documentation, more specifically, the work
of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Symmetry and contrast are the main features of Figure
7; however, the impeccable timing can only be admired when a deeper analysis of
the photograph is carried out. Nick Turpin is currently one of the most popular
contemporary street photographers, his easiness of the photos take the viewer
to the location and bring the contemporary urban public settings in to play.
Changing with time from the traditional street photos of Cartier-Bresson to new
contemporary of Nick Turpin, the main factor of the genre that would never
change is time and ‘the decisive moment’. When trying to find a link through
the entire genre of street photography, it would be an unusual moment frozen in
time or a mundane moment where everything lines up in an aesthetically pleasing
way. (Howarth & McLaren, 2010: 234-235)



Street photography of the 21st
century simply adjusts to new contexts and circumstances, while continuing to
draw emphasis on the popular urban settings, photographer’s awareness and honest
nature of the genre.

‘It cannot be endangered by any amount of
technical development or over usage that define the current state of the
photography scene.’ (Velimirovi?, 2016: online) “With everybody being able to
afford top of the range devices and take photographs around the towns they live
in and places they visit, it looks as though it could easily become too
ordinary to be noticed.” (Velimirovi?, 2016: online) This concern, however, is
far from an actual risk. ‘Street photography is unquestionably connected to
technology, always choosing to use the most advanced devices at its disposal –
so the current cameras available now are quite natural for this genre.’
(Velimirovi?, 2016: online)

The digital age is continuously growing and
evolving, however, the traditional theoretical texts could still not be more
relevant to any photographer around now. Finding the perfect moment to press
the shutter, the absurdity and punctum in every photograph to be successful
seems to be the key that is keeping the fascination of the viewer on street


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