Reclaim the street photography!

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“The new interest in street photography over the last decade and a half is perhaps the single biggest global movement photography has seen in its 170-year history,” says Nick Turpin, creative director of Street London, the third annual edition of the festival dedicated to street photography, taking place at D&AD’s new east London space from 17 to 19 August.

The three-day event, hosted by Hoxton Mini Press, includes guest speakers, shoots, panel talks and, of course, a street party on the Saturday night. There is also an opportunity for photographers to pitch for a 10-minute slot on stage, the Spotlight sessions, where 12 successful applicants will present their projects to an audience for constructive feedback. The theme for discussion this year revolves around how street photography is being redefined by photographers who have emerged from other backgrounds, including photojournalism, art photography and portraiture and how this has influenced them today. There is also a conscious view to look to contemporary expressions of genre. 

The goal of this year’s festival was not only to make it the best and most dynamic street photography event in Britain but also push the boundaries of what we think street photography can be,” says Martin Usborne, the co-founder of Hoxton Mini Press. “Too often street photography is a little predictable: visual puns, repeating themes, particular use of shadows. We want to look at where street photography meets other genres such as conceptual, art and portrait photography.”

Turpin adds: “People associate a lot of qualities with street photography – humour, wit, surrealism and a high degree of observation – but in its loosest, most inclusive form it is simply candid public photography and, in fact, the hashtag #canpubphoto is increasingly used to identify work on Instagram that isn’t staged or manipulated. It’s the candid observation of everyday life that makes street photography so simple in form but so incredibly difficult to do well in practice.”

From the series Merrie Albion © Simon Roberts

Some of the first examples of what we recognise as street photography today are Eugène Atget’s surreal shop windows in 1930s Paris; since then the movement has been through several major revolutions. It was redefined in New York by photographers such as Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, and later the likes of Joel Meyerowitz, and more recently  in London by the work of Matt Stuart – the latter a photographer at the forefront of street photography’s popular resurgence in the 2000s, says Turpin. Stuart will be part of the speakers programme, alongside several others who may not be considered traditional street photographers – including Simon Roberts, who shoots with a large format camera and tripod – as a way to address the exchange between the street, documentary and art.

The 2018 speaker programme also confronts the gender disparity in street photography, and the idea that it is to be considered a male pursuit. “We are particularly keen to redress this balance,” Turpin asserts. Appearing in the speaker line-up announced so far, are Kristin Van den Eede, a guest director and member of Observe Collective, Julie Hrudova, the photo editor of RTL News in the Netherlands, Eléonore Simon of Women in Street, and producer Kristen O’Sullivan.

Once considered more amateur than artistry, street photography today has a presence in the art world just as much as in the mainstream. To encourage the next generation of street photographers and build on the legacy of the genre, Street London is “aiming for a little more theoretical rigour, which is why last year we asked ‘Not How to Take Street Photographs but Why To Take Street Photographs’”. The festival is an opportunity to both reflect and project about the future.

As Turpin puts it: “Street photography is coming of age, it is maturing as an approach. I see a lot of young, new street photographers taking innovative directions with the medium.”

Street London takes place from 17-19 August at D&AD London, 64 Cheshire St, London E2 6EH

Image © Kristin van den Eede
Image © Nick Turpin
Image © Kristen O’Sullivan
Charlotte Jansen

Charlotte Janson is an arts journalist and editor-at-large of Elephant Magazine. Jansen has written for publications including The Guardian, The Financial Times, ELLE, Wallpaper*, Artsy, Vice and Frieze, and has authored two books on photography: Girl on Girl, Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze (2017) and Photography Now (2021). Jansen is also the presenter of the Dior Talks podcast series on the Female Gaze.