I recently suggested on Twitter that studio photography was just photography in a room and that street photography was just photography outside. Inevitably this caused some responses from people needing to attack me for speaking what I hope we can agree is just common sense. Common sense that is if you are not deep down in the trenches of street photography.
Perhaps the strangest, most aggressive and most revealing response I received came from someone who felt the need to question my ability to teach photography if I did not understand that photography outside was all about Cartier Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment’ and that studio photography was all about control. Such black and white narrow focused comments reveal more about the commentators than the comment they are commenting on. Another commented that “those that can do and others who can’t teach” obviously seeing me as a teacher and not a photographer of over twenty years who has had books published of his work and an extensive client list. Someone else said that this is a “bad take” another said that my comment was “obvious nonsense.”
It’s strange to me that such dogmatic positions are held when the case can be so clearly argued and questioned.
Of course decisive moments occur in a room or a confined space, whatever you call that space. Every space can be a studio, it doesn’t need to have artificial light, an infinity cove or in fact anything to do with photography in it to be the location for a photograph. Street photography by its very description occurs outside. End of my argument.
And yet pre-conceived understandings of both seem to inform and dictate the sensitivity of some.
Another photographer also responded, but politely, asking me what his images made in galleries should be called. I jokingly suggested ‘Room Photography’ but in reality I see no reason for the word ‘Room.’ It’s photography, nothing more and nothing less, with no need for a label in my opinion.
This comment also raised the issue of what is a gallery? Just like a studio it can be any space you want it to be. Hang some work in a space and it becomes a gallery, but that’s not just my thinking, the dictionary definition of a gallery is “a room or building for the display or sale of works of art.” The definition of a studio is “a room where an artist, photographer, sculptor, etc. works.” Rooms seems to be the constant here.
Maybe, I am not wrong here, misguided or misinformed. Maybe, I am informed enough to teach and work as a photographer. Of course, none of us should ever take comments on Twitter too seriously and taking them personally is not something I have ever done. However, sometimes they can point to a bigger issue. Street photography had its place in the sun a few years ago but it still maintains a strong level of engagement. Why wouldn’t it? It’s accessible to all and requires little investment, other than time and commitment. Yet, for some reason it has also attracted people who seem determined to construct rules as to what street photography is. I don’t mean discussion concerning the issues surrounding post-production but issues concerning the where, the why and the how.
Street photography takes place outside. My street is different from your street. There is no ‘one’ street. It should be able to exist anywhere outside from city street to country lane. If that is not the case then call it city photography or better still just call it photography and forget about the label. There is no need to fear the simplicity of language. It is not as if we need a label to explain an image. A caption maybe, a label never.
Photography is observational whether it takes place in the city, the suburbs or the countryside, inside or outside. The photographer seeks to capture a moment or construct a moment, manipulate a situation or document a situation wherever they are or whatever they see. We are all attempting to work with light to capture an image inside and out. The outside has the sky as a roof, a room has a ceiling, in effect neither are of any relevance.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2023