Art or recycling?

Street photography: I can’t give it away

Last weekend, as I was cleaning my home office, I started to fill the recycling container with unwanted prints. Some that had sat unloved for years. Instead of recycling the prints, my daughter suggested that I offer them, for free, at work. So, this morning, I dropped a pile of unframed prints on a couple of tables and left them there for a few hours. Thus started my inadvertent social experiment.

At the outset, there was a flurry of activity and the “best” prints were quickly snatched up. Over the course of the morning, the pile diminished until there were only a handful of prints remaining. As these are my work colleagues and they are nice people, I heard a lot of “oh, that’s so beautiful” and “this is such a great idea.”

A few of them picked up and looked at prints of my street photos. One actually took two of my double-exposure street prints home. But they overwhelmingly took conventionally appealing landscapes and seascapes, flower photos, and colourful images of boats and ships. And they left the street photos.

Now, I know that street photography is a genre best loved by, well, photographers. In fact, I suspect the average person considers it either a waste of time or downright creepy. Why are you photographing complete strangers on the street? Really?! And then, why would you consider printing any of them? Double really?!

My inadvertent social experiment once again proved this. Most people have no time for street photography and would rather own and look at pretty things. I get it.

I also get why I continue to venture out on the street, looking for good light and someone, hopefully interesting, to walk through it. This tends to be a skill-building exercise (seeing, anticipating and capturing). And, I will print some of the best of these, because they appeal to me.

I will also continue to photograph and print interesting and conventionally beautiful images that I run across in the rest of my life. They also appeal to me. And, there will have to be something to offer any future work colleagues, instead of filling my recycling bin, the next time I want to run a social experiment.

NB: Keep making photos and be sure to print them.


  1. Such important subject! Great photography will never be popular for a very simple reason; most people don’t have an adequate education and/or a sense of visual ascetics. This is why I refuse to accept a popular notion that “there are no bad photos – someone could like them.” I could focus 100% on my Palouse-style imagery and I am sure they would get me super popular but I won’t do it! We must pursue visual risk-taking even at the cost of popularity. Well done my friend! Keep it up.

    1. Thanks for your comment Olaf. In the end, I hope to be known as a good photographer, a good craftsman, and not as a genre-specific photographer. Popularity is well down the list.

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