Should I say street photography or urban social documentary photography ?

We have seen the term “street photography” in the last few years thrown around like a basketball in various courts, used in all kind of photography scenarios, yet does the term actual represent the genre of photography we label as street photography?

urban photography, street photography. Moments photography mag
Social documentary photography, Moments Mag

If we mean photographing urban, city environments, then perhaps it could be used as an appropriate label for that kind of photography. In this genre of photography the street, buildings and the general architecture is an indispensable part of the image as it plays an equally important role. It doesn’t necessary has to deal with any social issues. The photographer may be interested in light, shadows, architecture and the place of humans within that space. More often than not , a single photograph may stand alone without a need of a sequence. Also it is important to note that people in these photographs may or may not be represented in a portraiture mode. People may be photographed for the sake of scale against an architectural structure for example, or as a complementary shadow figure.

If on the other hand we mean photographing people in an urban environment where the focus is on the “urban environment and its social impact, social issues and human condition within urban circumstances then, perhaps ” urban social documentary” may actually be a better fit for that specific genre of photography.

Why not then simply “social documentary photography” instead?

First this kind of genre is a different beast altogether. It refers to photographing core social issues within the society. It may be in urban or rural environments and regardless of the setting it has that “social moment” within its core. It is usually a complete body of work in sequences. Great examples are works of giants like McCullin, Salgado, D. Lange, and Gordon Parks just to name a few.

So, how are you going to label your next photography shot in the city?

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