Monday, 2 June 2008

Street and Studio

On at the Tate Modern
The lure of the street by Geoff Dyer is a brilliant article about not just the exhibition but the genre of street photography itself

Less technically demanding, the best-known example of street-as-studio work must be Ruth Orkin's 1951 shot (not at the Tate, strangely) of an attractive American woman in Florence, running a multi-generational gauntlet of lounging men, who howl their salacious appreciation from street corner, cafe tables and Vespa. It's a witty and stylish photograph - and Orkin has never made any secret of how it was achieved. Together with a young art student she had met, the photographer told the guy on the Vespa what she had in mind and he explained it to his friends who gamely joined in.
This is so true for so many iconic photographs, but this one did suprise me.

Strand said that, although the picture had "enormous social meaning and impact, it grew out of a very clear desire to solve a problem". That problem was how to photograph "people in the streets without their being aware of it". (The problem these days, as Brooklyn-based street photographer Gus Powell recently explained, is that "it's harder and harder to take a picture without somebody in the picture who's also taking a picture".)
So it has been a problem for so many then. I once met a photographer who had tapped up his camera with gaffer tape and hid it in a coat. He figured that one shot in ten would work, but at least people would stop posing. I love the idea that it is impossible to take a photo without another photographer getting in the way, and this is particularly true in Paris where you see people almost fighting to take those so called impromptu photographs.


La Belette Rouge said...

I remember a series of works by Cindy Sherman in which she recreated famous scenes of women in danger from films. There is something about that Ruth Orkin photograph makes me aware of the violent potential of the gaze.
While the photograph may not be "authentic" it is certainly "true". That is why I think it has become such an archetypal image.

Nyla said...

Yet another exhibition that I want to see. (Oh, how I love the Tate.) Attempting street photography always makes me nervous, like if I'm caught in the act, the person might grab my camera and smash it to the ground. You did a great job playing the under cover Sartorialist for a day. I think under cover is the way to go.

BTW, thank you so much for adding me to your blog roll!!!