Growing up, I remember seeing quite a few photos from the 1940s and 50s of various relatives walking down the street. At the time I wondered about the mechanics of taking such photos. When I’m out with people, I hardly ever manage to get a photo of them walking towards me. If I think to take a shot at all, by the time I’ve organised it, they are ahead of me and I get their backs.
It was only recently I realised (DOH!) that these images were taken by professional street photographers.
They are interesting for all sorts of reasons. Because the photographer is a stranger, I think people behave differently. In the shot above of my great grandfather, he almost looks as if he is deliberately avoiding looking at the camera. This shot below – of my grandmother Susan Elder – suggests even more firmly that she is averting her gaze.
Street photography not only captures people fairly spontaneously, but in an environment that is not their own. They are out in public, wearing their public faces and giving very public performances.Many of us don’t like having our photo taken, so when it happens in public and can’t be avoided, we experience a moment of “slippage” where it can be difficult to maintain our public persona in the face of such intrusion into our private space.
Street photography can also provide a wealth of period detail; we can often date the image by the cars and fashions, while buildings and landmarks provide locational clues.
I like this shot of my mother with her sister and cousin rushing to get to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon. My mother, the eldest, looks grimly determined; the younger girls, slightly anxious and distressed. The movement inherent in their bodies contrasts with the women in the background, who seem to be taking a leisurely stroll around the shops.
In this later shot, my mum and and other sister are more relaxed, smiling shyly for the photographer. The girls are dressed in summer clothing, in contrast to the older women behind them wrapped up in coats.
The photo below is a mystery to me. The young man on the right is my great grand uncle, Stewart Cameron Cruden (younger brother of my great grandfather, above). The older woman behind him is his mother Isabella Wallace. I have no idea who the other two people are, or when and where the photograph was taken. This is the only picture I have of my uncle, who died in 1942 aboard a ship serving in the Arctic Convoys, and I would love to know more about it. Sadly, I’m not sure there is anyone left to ask.
My attempts at street photography are, as I’ve said, usually notable only for their dullness. This one however, of the Big T and the boy-child while we were on holiday in England, does kinda make up for the others.
This post was written for the Daily Post Weekly Photography Challenge. Here are some other bloggers’ views of street life: