What is urban photography? Is it a form of street photography, but without the people? How can one define what urban photography is, when it is so many things to so many different people. It can be as simple as photography made in urban spaces, documenting the remains or leftover stuff, that all societies leave behind at the edges. Yet, we are not quite aware of where the edges actually begin, because so many urban images are made in the centers of towns and cities. Yet they also show edges and boundaries between communities. Communities that live parallel lives, rubbing shoulders with each other, yet frequently seemingly invisible to each other, or is it as I sometimes think, just indifferent to each other and so consequently ignoring each other.
Another question that is often overlooked is what makes a particular community within an urban space, is it the clothes as outward reflection of a lifestyle choice, is it the colour of ones skin, the ethnicity that one exhibits. Is it the sense of belonging to a particular place that gives us our sense of community. That creates this sense of insider – outsider or to use a sociological terminology the process of othering. The process of othering is an ongoing and continual process that can be evident in a highly visual way within the urban environment.
For this we need to be able to see what is really in front of the camera, yet most of us (if not all of us) walk around with preconceived ideas that we then photograph, Becker (1998) has something to say about this in his chapter on imagery where he is specially referring to the mental imagery that we create in our heads from little scraps of information.
This in many ways is also the problem that confronts the urban/street photographer, often they are creating images from incomplete bits of visual information. So how do we avoid this obstacle to getter visual awareness and understanding that comes from images made with increased visual literacy. Do we need more information before we make images? Do we need more theory before we make images?
These are some of the questions that we should be considering when we are making images as urban/street photographers.
This is a subject that I am going to be exploring though my PhD.
Becker, S. H. (1998) Tricks of the trade; How to think about your research while doing it. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.