Meaningful Critical Street Shots (MCSS)
It’s quite some time I don’t write about street photography so it’s time now for me to go into something more theoretical than usual. In the past couple of years a photographic concept captured my attention. After shooting thousands of street pictures (many thousands, actually) either in small towns, villages or big cities and metropolis throughout three continents, I understood that there was a specific type of photograph among the many taken, that made that one a special one. Maybe not the best picture (I always talk about my limited skills and not in general) but something different, almost a genre by its own.
Only recently I was able to transcribe in words this concept and the best I could find is : Meaningful Critical Street Shot or MCSS. Let me elaborate a bit more the reasons behind it and its traits.
When is a photo meaningful? A meaningful photo is the one that inspires, moves, sparks an emotional response, is my answer. Sure we can discuss the technical aspects, exposure and focus, colors and grain, composition and so on. But I wouldn’t say a photo is meaningful unless I feel something by looking at it. Rarely emotions rise from a perfect sharp focus or total absence of vignetting…
And when a photo can be defined ‘Street photo’? Bruce Gilden is famous for saying that ‘ If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph. ‘ He likes to smell the dirt of the street just by looking at the pictures. Like Bruce, many of us associate the concept of ‘Street photo’ to the impressions and feeling of walking through the suburbs of a big city, the reflex of the wet asphalt and the smoke rising from the underground pipe works. New York would not be New York without its plumes of steam rising from the manholes, particularly evident during winter nights. I am less stringent than Bruce Gilden: a street photo to me is when you shoot in the streets, outdoors, in a big city or in a small town. When the field of view is wide (such as 50mm and wider) but this should not be a fixed rule.
The statement of Bruce Gilden, very effective, evocative and succinct, does not cover for a third important factor. I like to call it ‘Criticality’.
Critical is when a prominent interaction takes placeamong a subject and the environment or among a plurality of subjects or, finally, among the subject and the photographer. A shot is ‘critical’ when it captures an immediately evident or even a subtle interaction among the mentioned parties.
Now, on the idea of capturing something: it does not matter if what is captured is real or not. As long as the photo speaks to your heart and makes you feel that interaction, then a connection exists and the magic of the MCSS takes place!