Hitting the Streets

Summer is the season for traveling. From visiting new cities, to returning to your hometown, summer travel is an opportunity to discover new places and for re-visiting your favorite neighborhoods.

Street photographers bring a new and unfamiliar perspective to the cities they visit. Unfamiliar, but yet often strangely familiar. Amateurs and professionals alike share their travel shots on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

I recently delved into ICP’s library, and its many shelves on street photography for inspiration. The documentary section also provides a numerous selection of photographic travel books through the streets of the world.

Join me on a little tour of some of the ways in which photographers see the streets of Paris, Buenos Aires and of course, New York.


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Hoban Tana’s The Moon Was Best

“Once a mother and father were going to Paris. ‘Remember the special things to tell me,’ said the little girl, ‘the things I’d like if I were there.’ So the mother remembered.”  This is how Charlotte Zolotov and Tana Hoban’s children’s book The Moon Was the Best begins.

Not your typical street photo book, but rather a simple and sweet visualization of how most of us talk to our children and loved ones about our travels. Digested, perfectly adapted to our favorite audience, the ones closest to us.

This book has all the Paris classics (except, perhaps, the Eiffel Tower); the baguettes, the parks, the pigeons, the river Seine, the dogs underneath the café tables, the flowers. And then, at the end, there is the moon. The moon is the best, “because it was the same moon shining on you, so I knew we weren’t far apart at all.” Sometimes coming home is the best part of travelling.


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Buenos Aires Out of Series

Are you a list person? Making lists of the best albums, books, small and big tasks, things that annoy you or make you crack your biggest smile?

So is Guido Indji, the editor of the little square softback book called Buenos Aires Out of Series, featuring the image series of two Swiss photographers Daniel Spehr and Kathrin Schulthess.

Together they have comprised a highly entertaining everyday book that at the same time manages to see both the grand and the ugly, making the story they tell about Buenos Aires vivid and sometimes even smelly. As if the reader and onlooker join in on the discovery of the street art, groceries, surveillance cameras, road signs, statues of saints, old cars, tree stems or dog poop.

“Daniel and Kathrin covered places that were new to their experience. (…) When you are a visitor in a city you let yourself be carried along by your eye. You may pause for endless minutes on the same block or pass over others in a minute and a half without noticing a thing. Having surveyed other cities that aren’t mine, I’m speaking from experience.”  Guiodo Indij


Being a visitor to New York myself, I find I am constantly photographing little moments. The ones I consider memorable, I post on various social media. Mostly as a way of remembering my journey, a way to always being able to return to “my” New York any time I please.

These three New York street photographers all have a different take on this metropolis.

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Weegee’s Weegee by Weegee

First up, Weegee. Of course. In the recent ICP exhibition Weegee: Murder is my business [link: http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/weegee-murder-my-business ], Weegee’s street photographs submerges the viewer into a reality mostly (luckily) reserved for the nocturnally inclined.

“…Weegee brought to street photography a new, often shocking vitality. The combination of grit, humanity, intensity, merciless opportunism and spatial precariousness…regularly resulted in pictures that you can’t stop looking at…and don’t soon forget.” New York Times

The harsh reality of the ones literally not on the sunny side of the street, the directness, the brutality of the situations Weegee the reporter covers, is astounding, and stays with the onlooker. It is replicated today in action films accompanied by dramatic music and Hollywood stars. Weegee’s autobiography Weegee by Weegee is a natural find in ICP’s library street photography section. It is, descriptively enough, dedicated “To my modern Aladdin’s lamp – my camera.” When he polishes the lamp, we watch. In awe and disbelief at a New York I at least, am happy I get to experience only through photographs.

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Morten Anderson’s Jetlag And Alkoho

In the early 1990s the young photographer (Norwegian like myself) Morten Andersen roamed the streets of New York, photographing what he saw, in sobering black and white. The book, one of few photo books without any photographs on the cover, is itself sober in white and black. Jetlag and Alcohol  (with the graphic hint that in Norwegian, alcohol is spelled with a “k”, not a “c”) is, if we go by the poem on the inside of the cover, mostly about waiting. Waiting for the subway, for food, for becoming drunk, for love, for life to come along and make something happen. It is a film noir-like story well worth exploring.

“somewere out there in the night
something flows through you the same
as when you look at photographs of the city that lives in your head
black & white photos tilted pictures lonely pictures”
Morten Andersen

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Andy Warhol’s Street Diary

Now, what is New York if not its artists and their myths and legacies? One of the mythical New York legends is of course Andy Warhol. I never knew he also was a street photographer until I came upon a thin little yellow book on the shelves of ICP’s library. That is the beauty of libraries. They take you places you did not expect, teach you stuff that feeds your curiosity. Apparently, Warhol took more than a thousand street photographs. This mere leaflet only covers a few. A few selected ones: “No Dogs”, “Flag” and “Hair Dryers”.

Five takes on street photography from three different cities. Now, hit the streets and show your take on the streets of your choice!

Kirsti Svenning, ICP Summer Resident.
Kirsti’s regular job is as Communications Advisor at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.
Link: www.nobelpeacecenter.org

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