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A future for street photography?

April 5, 2011

Photo by Jake Dobkin

Last Sunday night at Union Docs in Brooklyn- three accomplished NYC street photographers, Clayton Patterson, Matt Webber and Jake Dobkin, each with a different perspective on the art, presented their work and participated in a panel discussion.

Clayton Patterson and Matt Weber are people photographers, but each has a very different approach.

From his base in the Lower East Side, Clayton has been documenting the cast of characters and personalities that inhabit his neighborhood. His personal mission has been to capture and preserve the identities of people marginalized by economics and those at the edges of culture which include; extreme performance artists, gang members and drug dealers. He’s been in the Lower East side he’s become part of the fabric of the community and has witnessed its gentrification.

Clayton’s genius was to get his subjects to come to him. He used his window and door as a makeshift gallery as a way for people to be seen and get seen and encourage those who didn’t want to be photographed, to approach him for a shot.

Matt Weber, got into photography when he was a taxi driver doing the night shift in the 1970s. He saw much on the streets, that eventually he had to shoot it. He’s what could be called a confrontational photographer, he doesn’t ask for permission and believes this adds to the tension in his shots. His specialty seems to be all around confrontation- he’s got incredible street fight images that he has no problem finding in NYC.

Jake is part of the new school- a digital photographer who isn’t interested in the gallery scene and uses Flickr and a blog as his main outlets. His not so keen on shooting people and prefers to shoot street art and architecture.

All three approached photography with a strong personal visions, but they were all relatively unclear about the discipline’s future with the proliferation of cameras it means that everyone is now a street photographer.

Jake spent the most time thinking about the future- and believed that street photographers could either blend in with the rest, come up with a radical idea like JR, or look for a technological solution.

Personally, I felt that each of the photographers proved that there’s no substitute for personal vision- anyone to take a shot, but how many iPhone users can consistently capture a culture or shoot great portraits or even want to?

Maybe photography is getting democratized and there will be a growing army of street photographers enabled by web access and lower-priced. higher quality cameras.

Beyond this lies a huge world of instant social sharing- this a new version of photography, it’s the Polaroid of the C21st where your world and your stories can be shared with the world and your social network.

This is a world populated by the likes of Color and Instagram.

Tim Malbon from Made by Many has an interesting take on
Instagram and he sees its social connectivity as critical.

“Each of these adds a little nuance or control to the digitally mediated
visual imagination we can share through Instagram. I love the way that
Instagram seems to be democratising image manipulation by making it
cheap (most of these are either free, or around ?0.49/$0.99, compared to
hundreds of pounds for Photoshop), but also by breaking it into tiny
manageable components called apps. 

Finally, the ability to do all of the above within a social context
provides a wonderfully natural new way to conceptualise a social
network. We are not merely visual creatures, but highly social ones as
well. I definitely feel closer to the people I know on Instagram than
any other social/community tool, app or service I have ever used. It’s
true that this spills across other social tools like Twitter – I use
them together – but it’s stronger and more natural and rewarding than
Facebook or Twitter alone. I am finding more common ground with

This is where the next innovation in street photography is going to happen- someone is going to take this and do something very interesting with it.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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