I have pasted the relevant parts of my Tutor’s report below and highlighted the parts that I will action when preparing for assessment submission.
This is an interesting topic that examines a genre of photography through a topical perspective – the photographers’ ability to continue in the light of legislation and public paranoia. Your first statement sets out your research question: this asks if, in the light of the difficulties that make street photography fraught (even alienating the public), ‘…is it still a valuable tool for documenting our time?’
Do the difficulties we face change how valuable the tool is? The question might be ‘should we still persist in documenting life on the streets, or abandon the legacy that was an intrinsic part of photography right from it’s start (many of Daguerre’s early images were streetscapes)?’
It’s important to get the question to match what you want to say – keep modifying it as you write the essay so that the overall brief matches what your essay’s content is about. This will also help to keep you focused on the main theme of your text.
Feedback on assignment
Your text appears knowledgeable and well balanced. The citations are well documented early on, but I was less sure later, such as whether Tang and Marlow (for example) were being quoted directly (written in quotes), or paraphrased. In an essay of this length I’d expect a few more sources acknowledged in the bibliography: you can mention those you consulted, even if you didn’t quote from them. Your illustrations are appropriate and have been chosen well.
As well as looking for books and newspaper articles, search Google Scholar for journal articles: start with ‘street photography’ then narrow that down with keywords such as ‘rights’, ‘modern’ ‘relevance’ etc.
Your first part doesn’t have its intention highlighted, whereas the second part does. The first part’s conclusion seems to be that ‘bearing witness’ is the main reason for documentation of the street (?). Alongside this it is worth adding that the street is a unique environment, with a different mixture of people than you would get in open spaces or indoors, and with a different social protocol (think about our body space, the personal zone we like to preserve, and what happens on the street). As such it has value as an area for observing modern life (allied to anthropology) in a way that other photography doesn’t. As you’re mentioning Eggleston and Frank, why not say what they did differently, or how have they moved street photography on?
The points raised about H C-B describe the decisive moment as a mode of composition. In a sense this is true – it is the choice of elements placed for greatest effect. What H C-B also did was to choose the moment, i.e. his timing was critical. This goes a little further than composition alone: a foot poised just above a puddle isn’t necessarily (only) a compositional feature. The timing reveals a tension, a coming together of elements within the flow of life that has more meaning for the photographer at that point than at any other. Timing and composition still have relevance today. It is also the subject matter and its location that makes street photography what it is. A point to consider about not cropping images was so that nobody else should alter his images after he had created them, thus changing their meaning (a founding tenet of Magnum).
You recount your personal experience of being stopped by the police – how does this relate to your essay? Does it prove your argument as set out at the start? You could also touch on recent trends for the capture of this ‘flow of life’, and the way this contrasts with antagonism towards photographers, e.g. surveillance and the rise of CCTV cameras; especially prevalent in Britain. Take a look at Sean O’Hagan’s article: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/18/street-photography-privacy-surveillance
You have done some good research on the historical review of street photography. You could widen this with more research on the changing rights to photograph in the street abroad. For example in France – the country that gave us Daguerre, Cartier-Bresson, Nadar, Atget, Lartigue, Doisneau, Ronis etc. – it is now illegal to take (identifiable) images of people in the streets. In the U.S.A. controversial photographers such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia have successfully defended their legal right to photograph in the streets. Vivian Maier is famous for having no commercial intentions, her work only discovered after her death, which gives a different emphasis to the reading of her work. There are may more to choose from, but examples of those that changed the genre or who fought for their rights are good ones to discuss.
Bystander: A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz
…and Open city: street photographs since 1950 by Kelly Brougher and Russell Ferguson
In a similar vein to Hansen, take a look at Trent Parke’s (mainly Australian) cityscapes .
I’d suggest that you look at photographers who blend in with their environment e.g. Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen (Byker estate, Newcastle), the ‘mass observation project’ images (especially those in Bolton, UK), Paul Reas (see ‘flogging a dead horse’ and ‘can I help?’), and Richard Billingham’s project ‘Ray’s a laugh’. These will give three very different perspectives on photographing environmental portraiture ‘candidly’.
Pointers for the next assignment
The personal project proposal should accompany this review as you’ve noted. The ideas that you have emailed to me constitute an interesting idea. Quite how that will shape up visually I’m not sure – I guess you might not be either …yet. I’d suggest some trial runs to explore what you want to shoot and how these could be edited down to focused ideas and images.
You may well find that this proposal gives an insight to a smaller aspect of the planned topic; one that you want to pursue in more detail. This would be a valid progression from the initial plan and would show an ability to recognize new possibilities and modify your plan accordingly. If you send me your proposal brief and (if you have them) some images, I’ll comment further for you.