Most of us in the photography world are familiar with the image below. For those that have never seen it before a brief explanation is required. Taken in 1838 by photography pioneer Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, he was attempting to capture a bustling Parisian boulevard. However, due to the lengthy exposure required by this early technology, the scene looks empty, devoid of life except for two figures just discernible in the bottom left hand corner of the frame. A gentleman has stopped to have his boots polished and, in doing so, has made history. As far as records can tell, this is the first photograph of people. Naturally this is a significant image from a historic perspective but there’s also a poignancy that explains why I have included it within the context of a street photography blog, and it’s not because the majority of the image depicts a thoroughfare.
Q. What aspect of our modern day can be described as follows: An optical device positioned at an elevated viewpoint that produces low quality surveillance images of members of the public. They may or may not be aware they are being monitored and it is unlikely they will ever see the recorded material.
A. CCTV and strangely enough there’s an uncanny connection to the aesthetic of Daguerre’s image.
The passage of time and social shifts have transformed this photo from an historical curio into an uncanny prophecy. If I didn’t previously perceive Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temple to carry the nuances of a street photograph, I do now.
All photographs allow us the luxury of prolonged inspection, street photography has an added benefit though, it offers us the opportunity to partake in a compare and contrast exercise bewteen the past and present. Although all images produced by the medium allow this, let’s take portraits as an example to illustrate a major difference. Portraits of the general public by nature are aimed at a particular and narrow audience, they’re hugely significant to family and friends as an example. However, street photography doesn’t reflect a life, it allows us to consider and question life in general, the poetry in the everyday, it’s about us. In some cases it may even offer up a clue as to where we’re headed.