I never would have imagined that street photography would start to become such a large and ongoing part of my work. The genre is very far removed from the style of work that I have become known for and the thought never occurred to me that there could or would be a logical transition between my style of photography and street photography.
While I have always appreciated street photography, I never saw it as something that was congruous with my own personal style of creating art. I viewed street photography as an entirely different animal and a fascinating genre that just wasn’t me. It turned out that it is actually another way to explore precisely the themes that I have been exploring for the past ten years: memory, mortality, the fleeting nature of life, isolation, and time.
It never fails to surprise me how many shapes and vehicles the muse will arrive in or conform herself to once we aim ourselves in a new or different direction. The themes that I have consistently explored through many different bodies of work are not only manifesting themselves in my street work, but the mood and style of the work is so familiarly my own. I am finding the themes that move me in the hustle and haunt of the city I have been surrounded by all this time without actually “seeing” it.
I have learned that street photography isn’t always raw, gritty, and HDR –it can have a fragility, a softness, and a wistfulness. It can also be surreal, abstract, and experimental. These are the qualities that I look for in the street photography that I admire and that I want to cultivate in my own work in this genre. But it’s not only the gravitation toward an emotional and more fragile aesthetic that makes me a bit anomalous. There’s one glaring and possibly related item that makes me unusual as a street photographer: I am a woman.
I have recently come to the realization that street photography, more than any other photography genre, is an extremely male dominated genre. About 99% of all articles, reviews, interviews, and lists of street photography that I have read have featured male street photographers. A list of the 20 most influential street photographers published in April 2015 by Streethunters.net did not feature a single female street photographer. This list is not an exception, but instead seems to be the rule when it comes to recognition of street photographers.
It is extremely difficult for female artists and female photographers in particular to make a living or gain recognition in this industry. We represent only 20% of works shown by the top galleries in New York and as low as 5% of one-person exhibitions in New York City museums. So, the math would indicate that female street photographers are even more underrepresented than these cringe-worthy statistics for artists and photographers in other genres. But, is this really a problem of gender bias, or are there simply far fewer female street photographers?
Of all of the historically recognized street photographers, I have only been able to find two women besides Diane Arbus. Helen Levitt and Vivian Maier. Sadly, both women were unrecognized during their lifetimes and were only granted recognition after their deaths. So, while it is wonderful that their work has been brought to the public eye, it is unfortunate that it was only by their deaths that they earned visibility.
I have particularly mixed feelings about Vivian Maier, whose work was absolutely gorgeous. I am torn between being happy that her work has been brought to light, yet at the same time I am a bit haunted by the feeling that her legacy was ultimately exploited by the men who brought her to the public eye. I have similar feelings about Francesca Woodman, who is to me the ultimate paragon of what has always been wrong with the establishment art world.
Why are female street photographers so glaringly underrepresented, unrecognized, or simply absent from the genre? I wonder if it’s partly because of the aforementioned gender bias, but also due to the fact that there are simply more male than female street photographers. Since joining Instagram to display my street photography, I have to say that I have only come across maybe two or three female street photographers. There is no doubt that it is a male-dominated arena. The gender balance is striking; It’s like the football of the photography world. Adding the gender imbalance of active street photographers to the fact that women are always underrepresented in art/photography, I think the lack of visibility is unfortunately to be expected.
I also find that many of the male street photographers tend to be rather aggressive and invasive in their approach to shooting. For me, I am always aiming for a candid or emotional moment. I don’t make myself obvious. I’m a passive shooter and it is rather difficult to get a beautiful shot while going unnoticed, but I feel that not being noticed allows for a capture that ends up matching my vision more authentically.
I think a female perspective in street photography is naturally going to be different, and I’d like to see more of the female perspective of the streets, particularly here in New York City. If you are a street photographer and a woman, feel free to leave links to your work in the comments section. You can find a selection of my street photography on my website here.