City of London Street Photography By Michael Wayne Plant, Documentary Style Street Photography,

Documentary Style Street Photography

An approach to making work.

Documentary Style, Street Photography.

I think this term ‘Documentary style street photography’ is rather good at describing how I think about my own approach to making images, for my current project on the streets of the City of London as a street photographer.

In writing about Walker Evans, I happened across a piece written by J. David Sapir called Walker Evans and his’ Documentary Style’ a personal reading. I read it with interest as I had studied my MA in Photography and Urban Cultures in the Sociology department of Goldsmiths University, it resonated with me.

The line in particular “If photographs are to provide evidence of the World they must be stripped of their style, denuded of aesthetic value.” That is for me a reason why Walkers Evans is significant as a photographer, but his work still had a style as do all photographers work have a style his is a reflection of his time that he made his images in like all work is in fact reflections of the era that they are made in. I once wrote a piece for one of my classes that explored this notion of each era has a look and this was both a reflection of the politics and the technical tools that where available to the photographer, at that particular time.

Digital has changed photography, but it also can if treated with respect get out of the way and allow plain seeing to happen, however the processing also needs to reflect this idea of simple processing so that the digital aspect of contemporary photography does not call attention to itself.

When I really think about it, using a documentary style in street photography is what most street photographers actually do, if street photographers are concerned with life as it is lived. Yet a lot of documentary photographers, also use street photography as an approach in there work. As they want to show how life is also lived out on the streets and they are also looking for that candid moment.

This idea of a style in photography is important as is about our conventions that we use to create meaning Walker Evans is quoted as saying: “When you say ‘documentary,’ you have to have a sophisticated ear to receive that word. It should be documentary style, because documentary is police photography of a scene and a murder….That’s a real document. You see art is really useless, and a document has use. And therefore art is never a document, but it can adopt that style. I do it. I’m called a documentary photographer. But that presupposes a quite subtle knowledge of this distinction.” (Evans W,  1983)” {Available online from: Accessed on 6th Nov 2017}.

So if we think about Documentary Style, Street Photography it is also a style and a process for making images that comes with conventions combining two genres  in the work that is being made. Whereas some documentary photography is set up, and while not made to look like it has been, it does have to have the collaboration of the people being documented to make it work. Whereas, street photography is candid, not set up, that is its attraction for a lot of photographers, because it is about the moment that is observed that is important to them.

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