Street photography

Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.

  • What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?
  • Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?
  • How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

Before looking at the work of the photographers mentioned in teh question I thought I would try and find a definition of the term ‘street photography’. Th Oxford dictionery of modern and contermporary art defines street photography as:

Term given to photographs taken spontaneously on the street with or without the permission of their subjects. It is especially applied to the work of American photographers of the 1950s and 1960s, including Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and William Klein.

OpenAthens / Sign in. 2018. OpenAthens / Sign in. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

However I prefer the definitions given by Alex Webb who defines street photogrpahy as:

A street photographer wanders and responds spontaneously to what he or she finds, rather than consciously searching for specific things, letting the world—and one’s unconscious—lead one where it will.

And goes on to say:

Some consider street photography a subset of documentary photography; others consider it a subset of art photography. For me, my work seems to have a foot in both worlds, so perhaps street photography is a kind of borderland between the two.

Alex Webb

Of the photographers mentioned in the question, Helen Levitt is an outlier as she cannot be considered contemporary having died in 2009. Levitt started working in black & white in the late 1930s documenting the Garment Disctrice, Lower East Side and East Harlem areas of Manhattan. She continued taking photographs until her death at the age of 95 in 2009. Levitt continued to use black & white throughout her career, however, from the late 1950s she also shot in colour.

© Helen Levitt

Joel Meyerowitz is an American photographer born in 1938. Before becoming aphotographer, Meyerowitz was working as an art director at an advertising agency. In 1962, having been influenced by tehe work of Robert Frank, he quit his job and took up photography and went on to work with Tony Ray-Jones and Garry Winogrand. Meyerowitz defined street his and Winogrand’s approach to street photogrpahy as:

Unexpected moments happened right in front of us and you try to make the most of that moment of recognition.

Joel Meyerowitz

What differentiated Meyerowitz from many other street photographers of the time was his use of colour. In the 1960s the use of colour was frowned upon in photographic circles, however, Meyerowitz with his background as an art director would have been familiar with colour images where they were widely used in advertising.

© Joel Meyerowitz

Paul Graham is a British documetary photographer who has lived in New York since 2002.  I did not know of Paul Graham, although I had seen some images from his book A1 – the Great North Road. Looking at the images on his website, my view is that he is not a street photographer but a social documentary photographer, the exception being the series The Present.

On his website Joel Sternfeld is described as:

‘…an artist-photographer whose work is concerned with the utopic and dystopic possibilities of the American experience, as well, as those of the human experience. ‘

Sternfeld is best known for his large format colour images of America and on his website it is described as:

‘…ironic as it is dignified, as poetic as it is documentary. It represents a melding of time and place that serves to elucidate, honor, and warn.’

Whilst his early work could be viewed as street photography, in particular his series Nags Head , I think his work is less street photography and more documentary. Regardless of how his work is categorised, what stands out is his use of colour which gives his images real vibrancy and is perfectly suited to the subject matter.

© Joel Sternfeld

Martin Parr is in many ways similiar to Joel Sternfeld, more a social documentary photographer than street photographer and working in colour from the early 1980s. Parr’s early black & white work was influenced by a contemporary of Joel Meyerowitz, Tony Ray-Jones. However, his book The Last Restort featuring pictures of the restort New Brighton in Wallasey which were shot in colour that introduced what has since become his signature style.

GB. England. New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85.


OpenAthens / Sign in. 2018. OpenAthens / Sign in. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

Art History News: Helen Levitt: In the Street. 2018. Art History News: Helen Levitt: In the Street. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

Helen Levitt – Wikipedia. 2018. Helen Levitt – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

Joel Meyerowitz – Wikipedia. 2018. Joel Meyerowitz – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

OpenAthens / Sign in. 2018. OpenAthens / Sign in. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

Huxley-Parlour Gallery. 2018. New York in Colour: The Work of Joel Meyerowitz | Huxley-Parlour Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2018].

Paul Graham Photography Archive. 2018. Paul Graham Photography Archive. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 November 2018].

The Guardian. 2018. Paul Graham: ‘The photography I most respect pulls something out of the ether’ | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 November 2018].

Paul Graham (photographer) – Wikipedia. 2018. Paul Graham (photographer) – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 November 2018].

Joel Sternfeld. 2018. Bio — Joel Sternfeld. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

Joel Sternfeld – Wikipedia. 2018. Joel Sternfeld – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

Magnum Photos. 2018. Magnum Photos. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 November 2018].

Introduction | Martin Parr. 2018. Introduction | Martin Parr. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 November 2018].

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