Perspective: Doug Rickard and street photography in the Age of Google

Photography of the street is not the same as street photography. Thoughts on Doug Rickard, Nick Turpin, and street photography since the arrival of Google street view.

Street photography used to be about urban/city life – about life on the street – the interaction of people and places. As a counterpoint, there was both architectural (building focused) and urban (more generic than buildings but less people-focused than street) photography.

The photography of streets =/= street photography

But in the last couple of years the two terms have increasingly been conflated – street photography and the urbanist photography of streets have almost merged together, as they have in Rickard’s photos. This hasn’t gone unchallenged:

Turpin’s right to resist this amalgamation: street photography is primarily about people on the street, while urbanist street photography is about streets that happen to have people in them. Turpin’s had a fair bit of flack for this on twitter, often along the lines of ‘you can’t have impermeable boundaries between photography disciplines’.

Authenticity and photography, or the perils of selective re-imagining the past

But you can’t (or should I say you shouldn’t) also retrospectively re-cast what photography is about either: to do so lacks discipline (in that it’s an intellectual short-cut that’s frequently obscured from the viewer) and is a convenient cop-out. This is photography as a form of comprehensive record-keeping, that has then subsequently been selectively edited to create a documentary style commentary on modern American urban life. It’s a great approach, and the results are really fascinating. In this, photography is a tool. In street photography, photography is the tool.

But it’s not street photography, and to label it as such shows a surprising ignorance of photographic history.