2017 Week 24 Gallery: Good Street Photography Is Hard

Singapore 2017: Window Cleaners Working On A HotelSingapore 2017: Window Cleaners Working On A Hotel

The original title of this essay was “Street Photography Is Hard”. After a bit of thinking, I had to append “Good” to the beginning of the title. After all, it has been several weeks since I posted any street photography related content. That is because it was so difficult to find street photographs I took which I feel is decent enough to share.

The practice of street photography itself is not difficult. That is analogous to saying that running is not difficult – except for the physically limited, everyone can run! But running fast enough to qualify for the Olympics? That’s hard! In a similar manner, anyone can bring a camera out into the streets and take pictures of life and events around them. But taking a street picture that is actually good? This is where things get difficult.

In architecture photography, you have an architectural subject to describe. In macro photography, you have insects, flora, and all kinds of interesting stuff to photograph. In food photography, you have good-looking food dressed up by a food stylist to photograph. In sports photography, you have a really interesting competition between different groups of people to document. In fashion, wedding and portrait photography, you have clearly-defined subjects and it is your mission to make them look as good as possible. In landscape and cityscape photography, the land before you is your subject.

Singapore 2017: People Among Urban GeometrySingapore 2017: People Among Urban Geometry

Street photography is the only photography genre where you have no clearly defined subject. In fact, you are totally reliant on random chance. That by some non-guaranteed random possibility, something interesting enough to be a good photographic subject will show up in your path, in the direction you are looking, at the time that you happen to be wandering the streets with a camera.

Which explains why there is so much bad street photography being shared out there. What is so difficult about taking a picture out in the street? Hundreds of thousands of tourists do that everyday. It is taking street pictures that are genuinely interesting which is difficult.

Singapore 2017: Looking At The Metropolitan Garden CitySingapore 2017: The City’s Urban Greenery

This brings us to another question. What is a “good” street photography picture? What is considered as “good art”? Isn’t this subjective? I agree that the qualification of “good art” is subjective – but only to an extent! Not every piece of art qualifies to hang in a museum. On the other hand, I also earnestly believe that quite a number of undeserving art pieces are hanging in museums. 😉 Oh the arrogance… But I will have more to write about this matter in later multi-part essays. – WY

2 comments

  1. I find good street photography very hard. First, because there’s the challenge of finding and then isolating a subject that satisfies one’s standard of “good.” It requires intense internal concentration and filtering out the temptation to take second-tier photos that are postcard-pleasing or worse.

    But skipping lightly over that, I don’t believe for a second that “good” is subjective. I believe that it is relative, but not a matter of the passing moods of the human heart. All of the world’s great spiritual traditions give us a very practical standard for measuring “good.” The universal instinct that drives all human behavior, they tell us, is the longing for happiness and freedom from suffering. By observing the human scene with dispassionate objectivity, they conclude that happiness increases as we use the human instruments of perception and action “expansively.” This, in turn, means that happiness comes when we use our body, heart, will, mind, and soul to achieve increasing health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy.

    The nihilist 20th-century thinkers of the West, with Jean-Paul Sartre as their flag bearer, tell us that life is meaningless, and that we are radically free to behave in any way we choose, without having to fear that some overarching God or impersonal force with intervene to punish or prevent us. But this is radical just intellectual hooliganism. It’s dishonest, the work of intellectual con artists. Because our own lives tell us that there are actions that bring us pain and suffering, and that these actions are easily identified by their contractive effect on our body, heart, will, mind, and soul. And happiness is the universal measuring stick for values – for moral action. Actions, and art, that promote sickness and sloth, hatred, sadism, ignorance, and sorrow are, for all practical intents and purposes, “bad.”

    Applied to the arts, the implication is that artistic expressions that betray the great human project of finding happiness are philosophically treasonous. They may be clever or “realistic,” but they are not attuned to truth. The implications for the overwhelming mass of so-called art today are obvious.

    Sartre and his nihilist acolytes have drawn entirely the wrong lesson from the apparent meaninglessness of the behavior of subatomic particles and the alleged randomness of the evolution of species. For a powerful corrective, I can suggest an inspiring, readable, and revolutionary book: Out of the Labyrinth – For Those Who Want to Believe, But Can’t, by J. Donald Walters.

    Liked by 1 person

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