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 but not all 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.
“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.””
Susan Sontag, 1977
The street photographer can be seen as an extension of the flaneur, an observer of the streets (who was often a writer or artist).
Framing and timing can be key aspects of the craft with the aim of some street photography being to create images at a decisive or poignant moment.
Street photography can focus on people and their behavior in public, thereby also recording people’s history. This motivation entails having also to navigate or negotiate changing expectations and laws of privacy, security and property. In this respect the street photographer is similar to social documentary photographers or photojournalists who also work in public places, but with the aim of capturing newsworthy events; any of these photographers’ images may capture people and property visible within or from public places. The existence of services like Google Street View, recording public space at a massive scale, and the burgeoning trend of self-photography (selfies), further complicate ethical issues reflected in attitudes to street photography.
Much of what is regarded, stylistically and subjectively, as definitive street photography was made in the era spanning the end of the 19th century through to the late 1970s; a period which saw the emergence of portable cameras that enabled candid photography in public places.