Monday, April 13, 2020


A long time ago there was a thing called Flickr. It actually still exists and there is still a community there. But along with Flickr came the rise of the current street photography that most of us know now. There was a group on Flickr called Hardcore Street Photography, or HCSP to those in the know. The moderators of this group had very specific ideas of what street photography is. They didn't allow certain photos in the group because of their quote/unquote high standards. Photography is full of tropes. A lot of these tropes exist for a reason. The word is photogenic. Some of these tropes will always look good. Covered cars are an easy target. I generally like photos of covered cars, even though they are cliche. One of the tropes that wasn't allowed in the HCSP group was photos of the backs of people's heads. The current popular trend in street photography, that was popularized by HCSP, on Flickr, and now is rampant with little heart thingys on Instagram is the crowded street with someone making eye contact with the photographer. The most common argument for this is that there is a lot going on on these streets. The unfortunate truth is that there is very little going on in most of these popular photos. What is going on in these photos is a very toxic, aggressive relationship between the photographer and the people on the street. Being aggressively in someone's personal space with a wide angle lens to get the eye contact and awkward glance that makes for a good (popular) photo. Maybe I'm thinking of this because of the current social distancing state of the world but most of these photos bore the shit out of me and only make me uneasy because of the aggressive attention seeking attitude of the photographer and not the content of the photo itself. Why am I saying all this? Because Lee Friedlander is a certified genius. He made a book called Head a few years back (with one of my favorite publishers and bonafide cool people TBW). In this book Lee shows all photos of the backs of people's heads. They all break the rules laid out by HCSP many years back on Flickr and they are all much more interesting than the street photography I've seen on that heart thingy social media app the last few years. It's well accepted that Lee is idiosyncratic in his picture taking. This book is no exception. Every photo in this book would be an interesting New Topographic-esque social landscape but Lee has made it better by adding a person in the foreground facing away.

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