Following feedback from my tutor I was encouraged to explore the work of a number of photographers, and to contextualise my images in relation to others’ work. The decisive moment, as quoted by Cartier-Bresson, generally applies to street photography as that was the genre of his work.
My dilemma is understanding the difference between street photography and documentary photography, if there is a difference, and does it matter.
I concluded that documentary photography includes images which follow a particular theme or situation, such as in the case of Don McCullin, known for his war photography. In a recent interview he said that he now photographs landscapes in his local area of Somerset, in order to try to erase the emotive war images from his mind, but he is also mindful of the disappearing landscapes in Britain and the need to document what may no longer be in existence in the future. So he is still producing what he sees as documentary photography.
Looking at the work of Diane Arbus, she generally engaged with her subjects. Many of her images were of “marginalised” people, such as circus performers, transvestites, etc. However, she also photographed ordinary people going about their daily activities, such as the young boy about to cross the street. So one could say Diane Arbus’ images were of both documentary and street genres.
Street photography tends to focus on capturing ad hoc images with no specific theme. Cartier-Bresson was a master at capturing images as a snapshot, generally without the subjects being aware of the photograph being taken. More recently, Tony Ray-Jones photographed ordinary street scenes with no specific theme, later developed further by Martin Parr. The main difference between these two photographers is that Martin Parr produces very brightly coloured images, and seeks out scenes which, to some, would seem to ridicule the subjects’ behaviour. Tony Ray-Jones images, on the other hand, were black and white and recording scenes which may be humorous, but not ridiculous.
I revisited my photographs selected for the “Decisive Moment” and feel my inspiration came mainly from Tony Ray-Jones work. The photograph of the bicycle chained up next to a very clear sign stating that no cycles should be left there. But no one had removed the cycle. An amusing situation, but not ridiculous.
My journey in reviewing other photographers suggested by my tutor has helped me to align my work with others, and to understand more about reading other photographers’ work.