I shot street photography in Tokyo, and had an amazing time.
Street photography is something I’ve long felt confused about. I’m not confused because I’ve not done enough reading about the subject, if anything I’ve done too much. No, my confusion comes from looking at what I shoot in the street and then trying to compare it to others.
My first exposure to street photography was before photography took over as my main passion. I was reading around the subject a little bit and trying to train my eye to see what made photos good. I used to work with a guy who was lauded as a very good photographer, and the more I looked at photography the less I seemed to understand what was good and what wasn’t.
I set out on a quest to educate myself about what I liked and didn’t, and what others considered good and didn’t. Through this research I came across a group on Flickr that was supposed to be, depending on who you listed to, either:
The last bastion of photography feedback on the internet
A place for mean people to trash everyone’s work.
Predictably, it turned out to be a little of number 1 and a lot of number 2. As I read through tens of pages of posted images and acerbic feedback I lost count of the amount of times people would say ‘Just because it’s shot on the street doesn’t make it street photography’. I took this as a rule, and moved on with my educational journey.
It’s only now I think back on this that I realise that I disagree entirely. As with all art, there are a number of defined disciplines within photography, all with their own definitions of what qualifies as art and what makes something have merit, and as with all art you can entirely disregard these and do your own thing.
The images I take that I define as street photography sometimes feature people. Sometimes they are just shots of buildings or objects that make interesting shapes, or look good in the light. Sometimes they’re abstract. My only criteria, and you can make your own, are that it’s not a staged photo and it was shot outside of my house or office.
Shooting street photography (as I define it) in Tokyo is something I found very liberating. Because of the rarity of me visiting Asia, everything seems exotic, people carrying cameras is an everyday thing and as an obvious tourist I didn’t feel self-conscious at all. It’s also the only capital city I’ve ever felt safe enough to be openly carrying two cameras and using my iPhone for directions in the middle of the night. I never once felt like I might be putting myself at risk of confrontation or theft.
Dotted throughout this piece are some of the street photos I took in Tokyo. They happen to all feature people, but you and I now know that that’s a coincidence. All shots taken either with a Sony A7II or Canon 5d mkII.