Street vs Documentary Photography

If like me, you’ve been staying in during the pandemic, my suggestion is to spend time looking at the work of other street photographers and identifying the things that you like or dislike to give yourself ideas of areas to explore once you’re able to safely go out and shoot the streets.

Protest Photography
Occupy Wall Street 34, New York City, November 2011

On the other hand, if you’ve been out on the streets shooting the Black Lives Matters demonstrations, I applaud your work and I do hope that you are staying safe and social distancing.

There is however a distinction to be made between street photography and documentary photography. In street photography you are setting out to take photos which you cannot predict who or what you will encounter.

Protest Photography
Occupy Wall Street 35, New York City, November 2011

In documentary photography you are already planning on capturing a certain subject in your photos. You already have an idea about what you’re likely to see.

While street and documentary photography are both valid photographic genres, street is always candid and frequently documentary will also be candid. You bring yourself and your thoughts and ideas to shooting either. You approach the two in a different manner.

Protest Photography
Occupy Wall Street 30, New York City, November 2011

I took the photos included in this post at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City in 2011.

Photography Changes the World

Photography has the power to change the world and we are witnessing it at this very historic moment in time. The Black Lives Matter protests are an excellent example of this. While people can read and talk about what’s going on in the world, it’s the photos that become etched in the mind.

When you can see something with your own eyes, an abstract concept becomes illustrated. While a single photograph by itself doesn’t necessarily represent the Truth with a capital T, the repetition of many photos can cement a reality.

Between the images of how George Floyd died to the demonstrations in the streets around the world has illustrated the growing beliefs of a large number of people. It is through these many photos taken by everyone with a camera including the journalists, that the people are giving voice to what might otherwise remain just a theory or a dream.

Black Lives Matter scanography
Get up, Stand up 5, New York City, 1 June 2020

I have written and stated many times in the past that I think that street photography can change the world one photo at a time and that maybe I am a hopeless optimist.

While photos of the demonstrations might be more appropriately called documentary photography, the genre title is not really important. It is clear that the majority of the photos shared publicly are candid and they reveal the feelings and beliefs of millions.

So yes, photography can change the world. Whether you are out there taking photos of the movement or, like me, only able to observe the overwhelming number of photos that repeat the same story, we are witnessing a major shift in the world.