photography genres, a contemplation

"What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love." ~ Meister Eckhart

By In Photography

A while ago I had an interesting discussion on Facebook about different photography genres, so I thought I’d write put my thoughts about this into writing. First of all a disclaimer, I love thinking “out-of-the-box” and this is purely my view on things.

Photography genres

In every photography group, you’ll find discussions about photos not being a certain genre. Be it street photography purists, urban exploring purists, or whatever, they all have their own thoughts about their photography genres. And, of course, I can understand this. People need boundaries in their lives to understand stuff. Me included. Still, I had a train of thought back then in a (very cool and civilized by the way) street photography group.

First, let’s start with a couple of definitions, which I found on the web, and I’ll accompany them with a photo I think fits the genre to make it more clear:

Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Although there is a difference between street and candid photography, it is usually subtle with most street photography being candid in nature and some candid photography being classifiable as street photography. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic

Street scene of a beggar among shoppers in Venice

Urban exploration (often shortened as UEurbex is the exploration of manmade structures, usually abandoned ruins or hidden components of the manmade environment. Photography and historical interest/documentation are heavily featured in the hobby and it sometimes involves trespassing onto private property.

Urbex photo of chambre de commerce

The last one, Urban Photography is a more difficult one. Wikipedia doesn’t have a page for this. So I searched the web and found somewhat of a definition on streetbounty.com

Although Street Photography and Urban Photography are very similar in their style, I believe that there are important distinctions and that they are not the really the same.

While Street Photography focuses heavily on people and their environment, Urban Photography includes to a greater extent the architecture. Nonetheless, Urban Photography, is not equal to architecture Photography, at least to my understanding.

Urban Photography can be gritty, while Architecture Photography displays more cleanly buildings and the city.

Urban scene at the world peace flame in riemst

What? Who? huh?

So, here we are. Three definitions. So where do I want to take this?

In the aforementioned group, of course, the main topic is street photography. Within that group, there was a call for a cool competition called the urban photo race, which takes place every year in various cities in the Netherlands. As I’ve done some street photography, urban photography, as well as urban exploring, this call, and the naming of the competition got me thinking. What’s street, what’s urban, and where am I in this?

Am I a street photographer? Or an urban photographer? As I’ve mostly quit urban exploring, I’m not much of an urbex photographer anymore, that’s for sure. Still, I want to take urban exploring into account. So here’s my view on things:

Street Photography

I love my candid shots, but, I know that I’m also a fan of architecture. And I’m an impatient man, so I’m not one to be waiting at a scene to get the perfect shot. So, while many of my shots are indeed candid shots, for some, I ask people to walk by, stand somewhere, so I get the photo I want. It’s not very candid that way, is it? I’m sure street photography purists would dismiss this way of working. But, I’m on the street, taking photos. And, the quote states “with most street photography being candid”. Ah! So, not all shots need to be candid! So maybe I shoot street, in a way?

Street scene in Vienna, Austria

Urban Photography

In many of my shots, I tend to focus on architecture quite a bit. Sometimes even to a point that I use a tripod to set up my shot. So I guess you could call that an urban approach. But, I also shoot some of these so-called urban shots, with a focus on architecture, in a candid way. So isn’t that street again? Or will purists dismiss these as being too urban? In a way, for me, going out to shoot in a city, even though I tend to have more of an eye for architecture, but with some people in it, is street photography, too. Isn’t it?

Urban scene in a subway in Cologne

Urban Exploration

And what about urban exploring, one of the photography genres I was a part of for a while? Purists will say you need to be in abandoned buildings and take your shots there. But when I look at the definition of “the exploration of manmade structures”, isn’t roaming through a city or a village, getting lost there, and discovering it, also a form of urban exploration? For me, it is. But without the illegal entering (for the most part), and with other risks. Instead of collapsing buildings, you could get hit by a car, for instance.

urbex photo of a hallway in an abandoned factory

So where do I stand? Even though I understand the need for these boundaries, I think people should focus more on making and appreciating great photography than on nitpicking over other people’s photos and whether or not they fit into “their” photography genres. I love seeing other people’s work. And when a photographer that normally shoots abandoned buildings suddenly decides to shoot the exteriors (which would be architecture then?) of churches, or graveyards for a new series, who am I to judge? As long as the passion is there, and I can see they put effort into their work, anyone can do what they want.

For me it’s all about going out, connecting with my environment, whether that’s people, bustling cities, or even (never say never) the occasional abandoned building with the beautiful smell of decay.

~ B.B.

Written by Bas

Photographer, traveler, lover of black coffee, red wine and gin & tonic. Wearer of black glasses and a black hat, always a camera in hand, and the occasional writer.

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