Street photography has a long history that dates back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Eugene Atget, one of the first street photographers, took photographs all over Paris, including images of vendors, parks and buildings so that painters could reproduce the images in their paintings.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the first to use 35 mm film, and Robert Doisneau further developed the art of the street image in Paris with Leica cameras, finding subjects in unique interactions among artful surroundings. Cartier-Bresson created the ultimate image of a man jumping over a large puddle of water as his upside-down reflection is mirrored in the frame. Doisneau caught kids in playful romps-the image of two boys walking on their hands-arms and legs bent in unison-casually down a street as two other boys in matching outfits intently watch in the background. He went beyond the street with photographs such as a boy with a watchful eye on the clock in the classroom.
Andre Kertesz brought people reading from all around the world to life in his work “On Reading.” Finally, there is the renowned book, The Americans, about life in the United States by Robert Frank. Frank had traveled to various cities in 1955, photographing Americans in their day-to-day life, the waitress in the local diner, for example, and a variety of people who can be seen looking out through four square bus windows. Many of the photographers who documented the Great Depression also shot candidly on the street, including Walker Evans and Helen Levitt.
Each of these street photography artists was able to capture the perfect moment, the
most puzzling aspect of street photography, the moment of uniqueness in a setting on the street that comes and goes instantaneously, the moment every street photographer looks for in hopes that he will be quick enough to snap. Street photography has been and always will be a game of chance. Finding the picture-perfect, Levitt-like moment of, say, a woman who appears headless digging through her baby’s carriage, as her baby watches requires the photographer to have a constant keen eye. Photographers increase their chances of getting a powerful shot if they’re discreet, get close to the crowd and have a camera that is street-photography ready.
In this image, I ended up asking the woman if I could photograph her. I liked her glasses and hat. In order to get her attention while she was eating, I slipped into her conversation saying, “I like your glasses.” She said, “Thank you,” and smiled. I then asked her if I could take her picture. She obliged.
When I see something unusual like the glasses, I’ll quickly figure out a plan to get the shot. I had passed this woman about an hour before I took the shot and had hoped she’d still be there when I passed her by again.by