Street photography

What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

The shift from using black & white to colour in street photography took place gradually but was really driven by American photographers, William Eggleston, Saul Leiter, Steven Shore, Joel Meyerowitz and others in the 1960s. In 1935 Kodak introduce the first colour slide film, Kodachrome, followed by Agfa 1936. Development of colour films continued and in 1942 Kodak launched its first colour negative film specifically for producing colour prints, Kodacolor. Addoption of colour print film was slow due to it being significantly more expensive than black& white and more difficult to work with, however, by the 1960s as the sensitivity of the film increased and the processing cost fell, photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz and William Eggleston began using it in their street photography.

Eggleston is quoted as saying “When I switched from black and white to color, the only thing that changed was the film,” however the switch to colour also resulted in a change of subject matter. Black & white film was suited to producing images containing high contrast with strong geometric shapes, however, this was not necessary when using colour film as colour could provide the interest within an image. Instead of producing images that were a homage to or pastiche of images produced by Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston, Leiter, Shore and Meyerowitz used colour to break with convention moving away from the decisive moment approach to street photography. This change in subject matter was summed up by Agnes Sire in the book William Eggleston- From black and white to colour

It’s no coincidence that artists like Eggleston and Shore managed to picture banal subjects in an interesting way, and it was their use of color that helped them accomplish it. The transition from black and white to color was as much a transition from supposedly salient subjects — like the photojournalism championed by Magnum — to the more poetic everyday object.

Agnes Sire

Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?

I think the development of street photography switched from Europe to America in the post war period. Although photographers in the US were inspired by the work of European photogrpahers such as Cartier-Bresson and Brassai, they did not want to merely reproduce it. The difference in culture between the USA and Europe, the questioning of conventions, particularly around the use of colour, and the desire to challenge the status quo all contributed to the move away from surrealism towards a more documentary approach.

How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

Irony can be defined as ‘the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.’ Having looked at The Last Resort by Martin Parr and Cardiff After Dark by Makiej Dakowicz I think that rather than presenting an ironic view of Britishness, they present a wry view; wry being defined as ‘using or expressing dry, especially mocking, humour’.


Medium. 2018. Why Photography’s B&W vs Color Debate Is No Debate At All. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 December 2018].

Kodacolor (still photography) – Wikipedia. 2018. Kodacolor (still photography) – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 December 2018].

Color photography – Wikipedia. 2018. Color photography – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 December 2018].

The ’60s Photographer Who Captured the Street in Vivid Color – The New York Times. 2018. The ’60s Photographer Who Captured the Street in Vivid Color – The New York Times. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 December 2018].

irony definition – Google Search. 2018. irony definition – Google Search. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 December 2018].

Maciej Dakowicz Photography. 2018. Cardiff After Dark. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 December 2018].

Magnum Photos. 2018. The Last Resort • Martin Parr • Magnum Photos. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 December 2018].

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