Street Photography and Documentary Aesthetics

Sidewalk Café, Boulevard Diderot Paris

Now that the cyber-work is done, the web presence integrated – back to film making! And, after so much technical detail – why not some aesthetics?  It is easy to get bogged down in the technical details, losing sight of the important things.  So – what informs my aesthetic choices in documentary film making?

One of my big sources of inspiration is Street Photography, a rough hewn and wide ranging branch of photography.  Of many prominent  street photographers, the  most famous is Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French painter who was transformed by the Leica 35 mm rangefinder camera.

Street photography involves stolen images from the public space.  Photographers are unobtrusive, if not surreptitious.  Street photography is aptly named, since many images are of people in the streets.  Street photography is closely related to documentary photography, but may be much more abstract.  It is often ironic.

Street photographers tend to use shorter focal lengths (like 35 mm in full-format 35mm cameras), and the quiet and unobtrusive Leica is probably the epitome.  So they work in the midst of their subjects.  They generally maintain an emotional distance, though – they are observers, not participants, trying not to influence events themselves.

The parallels and lessons for documentary filmmaking are fairly obvious.  There doesn’t seem to be a Cinéma vérité equivalent, in which the photographer is part-observer, part provocateur.  You can find hints and tips about street photography at many web sites, including this essay at`.

A great history of Street Photography is Bystander: A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck & Joel Meyerowitz.


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