Week 2: The history of street photography

The history of street photography

This week the introduction to the history of street photography gives us a background of how the change of technology in the late 19th and early 20th century gave a birth to this discipline and presents its three pivotal figures. Eugene Atget was taking his photographs with a large view camera that required to be positioned on a tripod and a long shutter speed. His pictures concentrated on the streets of Paris and in most cases didn’t have any people in them (a person would have to stand still for several minutes for the camera to record it). His photographs served as “documents for artists” and painters would use them as a reference for urban scenes. It was the appearance of 35mm Leica – the first portable camera – that allowed photographers to be more mobile and shoot changing scenes of the streets. Jacques-Henri Lartigue was photographing interesting scenes of life in Paris but he was most passionate about photographing women in parks:

“She: the well-dressed, eccentric, elegant, ridiculous or beautiful woman I’m waiting for…There
she comes! I am timid… I tremble a little. Twenty meters…ten meters…five meters…click! My
camera makes such a noise that the lady jumps…almost as much as I do. That doesn’t matter,
except when she is in the company of a big man who is furious and starts to scold me as if I were
a naughty child. That really makes me very angry, but I try to smile. The pleasure of having taken
another photograph makes up for everything! The gentleman I’ll forget. The picture I will keep.”

The breakthrough moment for street photography was the establishment of the photo cooperative Magnum. Founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and David Seymour in 1947 in order to provide continuous employment and control over copyrights, Magnum turned photography into a profession. Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the most remarkable photographers of all times and is considered to be the father of photojournalism. Through Magnum he was photographing social events like last days of British rule in India and communism in China.

Looking at great photographs

In the second part of this week’s lesson we are looking at photographs of some of the iconic figures in street photography and photojournalism. The one that  was most memorable to me is this photograph by Robert Capa:

Robert Capa

It was taken in Chartres (France) in 1944, just after the liberation of the town. The woman is being walked home by a crowd, after she had her head shaven to punish her for having a baby with a German soldier. What strikes most in this scene is the enjoyment and happiness of the crowd.


The practical assignment for this week was to talk to a stranger on the street and ask for permission to take their photograph.

Normally I’m not a person that would approach strangers and start random conversations but it was an interesting experience. Discovery: strangers are actually friendly people! Even though about 1/3 of the people that I’ve approached said no to having their picture taken, they were saying it with a smile and some were even apologizing for saying no. Those that said yes were interested in my photography project and wished me the best of good luck. I’ve managed to take about 10 portraits but I’m happy with only few of them – when you’re stressing about how people are going to react you forget abut things like composition and angles…




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