Since the major developments in the early 1900s,the changes through research and development, both technically and physically, havebrought the photography process to new heights. From the first survivingpermanent photograph taken by Nicéphore in 1826 to the introduction of thedigital film by Kodak in 1992, the photography world has continuously transformed.This essay will investigate the key turning points through the history ofphotography exploring how the process became portable and the changes that camewith it, as well as the revolutionary developments of the digital age. It willalso explore and compare some of the most influential street photographers andphotojournalists of both the traditional and contemporary eras. Since the first survivingphotograph by Nicéphore, landscapes became one of the most frequent subjectthemes, with barely any people seen in the photographs – when they are present,they are distorted or fragmentary.
This was due to the restricted amount ofmovement accessible with the box camera on a tripod and the lack of theexposure time available. “For most of the nineteenth century, photography hadbeen a matter of manipulating a heavy, cumbersome box mounted on a tripod. Withseveral delays between exposures allowing one picture at a time, it only made alimited range of subjects available. The advent of small cameras and fastexposures removed this straightjacket.” (Galassi, 1993: 29) The arrival of the small hand-held cameras andcolour film gave recognition to the new generation of photographers andphotojournalists whose subject of documentation was no longer limited. The Leica1 camera became the first commercially successful 35mm camera in 1925 and was afirm favourite to photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson.
WhenCartier-Bresson acquired a Leica in 1932, his work in the following three yearsgained him the recognition after pursuing photography passionately andproducing 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 itunfolded.” (Galassi, 1993: 29). From this rise, there became a new emphasis onspontaneity as Cartier-Bresson famously termed it, “The Decisive Moment”.
(Brougher, 2001). The development and rise in popularity of the Leica camera gavephotographers and photojournalists a new way of working and documenting thestreets. “It provided the street photographer with a cinematic view of theworld. Leica changed the camera into a gun, poised to fire on any number ofmoving targets.” (Brougher, 2001).
Photographers such as Robert Frank, NigelHenderson, William Klein and Roy DeCarava were part of the new surge of streetphotographers using the Leica in a completely new approach which gave ‘resultantimages that were considerably different from Cartier-Bresson’s, his gracefullines and elegant compositions giving way to an almost expressionistic use oftilted angles, distortion and disjointed elements.’ (Brougher, 2001) HenriCartier-Bresson – “The Decisive Moment”Cartier-Bresson’s work is widely ‘published inmagazines and a series of books, including rare reports on newsworthy events.’ (Galassi,1993) Despite some of his most famous photographs that still influence the massof photographers now, the ‘Decisive Moment’ is among the history of photographythat will continuously be mainstream and relative to both professionalphotographers and novices. The ‘Decisive Moment’ is essentially to do with howthe photographer can achieve the perfect photograph of the instant they hadalready anticipated in the surroundings. (Scott, 2007) Cartier-Bresson could bebranded 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, hisfirst came at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1933. His photographs aresubsequently shown at the Ateneo Club in Madrid. ‘The concept of the decisivemoment, 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-Bressonadvocated for spontaneity and intuition as the driving forces of creativephotography, which strongly affected the street subgenre. The works of HenriCartier-Bresson and Bressai fundamentally shaped the practice of streetphotography after World War 2.'” (Velimirovi?, 2016: online)”His photographs provided a rather broaddescription of a place, its people and culture, and the texture of its everydaylife. It helped create the image of the photojournalist as an alert butdetached observer providing an image that dovetailed neatly with the notion ofthe ‘decisive moment’ and in the process limited its meaning.” (Galassi, 1993: 19)Under the heading of photojournalism, the decisive moment is ‘not only apictorial climax that yields a satisfying photograph but also a narrative climaxthat reveals a truth about the subject.
‘ (Galassi, 1993: 19) Chinese photographer Ying Tang and AmericanPhotographer Gus Powell have debated the difference of a photojournalistquoting “I call myself a street photographer because I document the lifestyleof the people on the street. The difference between street photography andphotojournalism is that street photographersdon’t necessarily have a theme to start with or an agenda for taking pictures.”(Tang, 2010 p.234)(Gus Powell) “Whilephotojournalists 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 morethan a mask.’ (Galassi, 1993) “For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrumentof intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms,questions and decides simultaneously. To give a meaning to the world, one shouldfeel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requiresconcentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry.”(Cartier-Bresson: online)’Composition, detail and fixing geometricpatterns around his chosen subject matters where features Cartier-Bressonalways emphasised the importance of.’ (O’Hagan, 2014: online) The accidentalquality needed to produce the small and rare details in photographs that jumpsout 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 photographswhich ‘has some existence in the viewer’s eyes, most provoke only a general andpolite interest.’ (Powell, 2010: online) “They have no punctum in them, theyplease or displease you without pricking you. The stadium is of the order ofliking, not of loving. It is that very wide field of unconcerned desire, ofvarious interest.” (Barthes, 1980: 27) The element that will disturb thestadium is punctum. “For punctum is also sting, speck, cut, little hole.
Aphotographs ‘punctum’ is that accident which pricks me. A detail attractsme. The detail is the punctum.” (Barthes, 1980: 27) ‘Punctum’ is more powerful to the spectator than’Stadium’.
‘Gare Saint Lazare’ Place de l’Europe, Paris,France, 1932, could be considered one of Cartier-Bresson’s most iconicphotographs with the typical and recognisable style focusing on composition andsymmetry as the main components. Although photography has come a long way since the first survivingphotograph, it’s still clear to notice the similarities of the two from the hazinessof the architectural buildings in the background and the natural elements oflight. Moreinterestingly, the idea of ‘Punctum’ is very apparent with the smaller detailsbeing the centrepieces of the photograph. Seen in the back of the photograph isanother figure that brings the extra ‘sting’. Almost imitating the photographer,himself, the figure waiting alone for an instant to unfold. The ‘DecisiveMoment’ is the exact second to press the shutter.
In this context with howCartier- Bresson approaches his photographs, the decisive moment may be betterapplied to photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand, who ‘poundthe streets in search of the right convergence of light, action and expressionrather than pattern and geometry.’ (O’Hagan, 2010: online) JoelMeyerowitzIn the early seventies, severalphotographers changed direction mid-career, from black and white to colourphotography. Joel Meyerowitz began photographing his first photos in the formof colour slides in 1962 and since, colour in work became more important. The subjectson the streets changed from incident to overall field photography.Architecture, light and space now have a new interest.
Traditional qualities ofthe earlier works of Meyerowitz are carefully composed images with a balancedharmony of light and colour. This is due to the use of the plate camera, withwhich all those details that can be distinguished in reality are given anequally emphatic presence. Meyerowitz photographs of his home city of New York,in which he is following the direction of his earlier street photography, onlynow 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, SaulLeiter, Robert Frank and Joel Meyerowitz authored some of their most renownedphotos between the years of 1940 and 1960.’ (Velimirovi?, 2016: online) ‘Everysingle one of them brought something new to the table and helped developed thegenre that was experiencing a significant rise in popularity in those years.
‘(Velimirovi?, 2016: online) The social commitment that pervaded the work ofmany of these prominent photographers from the early thirties onwards is nolonger to be seen in the photographs of the new era of photographers. Inaddition, 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 overwhether photographers stage the moments in which they then capture.
Robert Capaproduced one of the most famous photographs in 1936 of the falling soldier. Itsparked the concern over whether Capa instinctively pressed the shutter at theperfect time to freeze that moment, or if the soldier created that scene purposelyfor that shot. Thirty years on, although technology and subsequentlyphotography has changed, the discussion continues. Joel Meyerowitz has takenmultiple series of photographs in his home city of New York and throughoutcities in Europe. One photo entitled ‘Paris, France’ continues to bring thecontemporary style but still with references to historical photography.
Similarities to Robert Capa, this photograph has noticeable features that wouldsuggest that the scene that played out has been recreated. Meyerowitz statesthat he wanted to bring his ‘old street habits to bear on something that wasmuch more than ordinary street life, and yet not quite documentary in anyconventional sense.’ (Howarth & McLaren, 2010: 131) The whole genre ofstreet photography exploits so many similarities through all styles. Thethemes, places, ideas and subject matters suggest that the photographers allsee the world and the place in front of them in the same way. Figures 5 and 6 show clear examples of howtwo photographers strongly consider composition and timings.
Perfectlypositioned, they also show the humorous side that comes with streetphotography, the expectancy of what you will see when you walk the streets withthe camera, and the unknown details the camera picks up. The street photographaccepts that the camera sees more than we do, that it is an instrument ofprivileged access. (Scott, 2007)Fifty years between the two images but acontinuous movement from each era.
NickTurpin Figure 6: Joel Meyerowitz, New York City, 1936 Turpin’s workoffers an insightful social commentary without the heavy-handedness we so oftenassociate with documentary. “I didn’t research it like a photojournalist;I just turned up daily on the streets. For me, pictures made in a shoppingstreet or business district of a city reveal as much about our world aspictures made in places of international conflict or famine or environmentaldisaster.” (Turpin, 2010: 207-208) American photographer, Gus Powell shares hisfavourite approach to street photography which is a quote from photographer StephenMcLaren: “A good street photography should tease, puzzle, reveal, stun, provokeand 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 publicplaces waiting for the perfect frame to play out in front of him.
With no storyor idea of what he will seek out, Turpin chooses to photograph the things thatfascinate him on that specific day. Considered one of his most successfulphotographs, ‘Trading Life, London’ not only shows comparisons to itself but toworks since the beginning of street documentation, more specifically, the workof Henri Cartier-Bresson. Symmetry and contrast are the main features of Figure7; however, the impeccable timing can only be admired when a deeper analysis ofthe photograph is carried out. Nick Turpin is currently one of the most popularcontemporary street photographers, his easiness of the photos take the viewerto the location and bring the contemporary urban public settings in to play.
Changing with time from the traditional street photos of Cartier-Bresson to newcontemporary of Nick Turpin, the main factor of the genre that would neverchange is time and ‘the decisive moment’. When trying to find a link throughthe entire genre of street photography, it would be an unusual moment frozen intime or a mundane moment where everything lines up in an aesthetically pleasingway. (Howarth & McLaren, 2010: 234-235) ConclusionStreet photography of the 21stcentury simply adjusts to new contexts and circumstances, while continuing todraw emphasis on the popular urban settings, photographer’s awareness and honestnature of the genre.’It cannot be endangered by any amount oftechnical development or over usage that define the current state of thephotography scene.’ (Velimirovi?, 2016: online) “With everybody being able toafford top of the range devices and take photographs around the towns they livein and places they visit, it looks as though it could easily become tooordinary to be noticed.
” (Velimirovi?, 2016: online) This concern, however, isfar from an actual risk. ‘Street photography is unquestionably connected totechnology, 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 andevolving, however, the traditional theoretical texts could still not be morerelevant to any photographer around now. Finding the perfect moment to pressthe shutter, the absurdity and punctum in every photograph to be successfulseems to be the key that is keeping the fascination of the viewer on streetphotography.