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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Sixteen: Story-telling street photography tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Sixteen: Story-telling street photography

Some photographers think that “street-photography” means just shooting pictures of people in public places. That is a very limited definition. For me, “street photography” means telling stories. It means showing how people spontaneously react and interact in public places. And in telling a story about a few people, I can also try to make a visual statement about many people – because my street photography can potentially express ideas that carry symbolic, as well as specific, meaning.

In this gallery, I’ll share some examples of symbolic story-telling street photographs I’ve made during my travels, and explain to you how and why I shot them as I did. You will also find images based on street photography in my other galleries as well. For example, street photography is rooted in human values, and I devote Gallery Three to explaining why human values are at the core of expressive travel photography. Much effective street photography can also be abstract and incongruous in nature, and I explore those critical principles in my first and second galleries.

Street photography runs parallel to photojournalism. It relies on the same photographic instincts – an exquisite sense of timing based on anticipation, and a passionate understanding of human nature. It also requires you to be comfortable using your camera in the presence of strangers -- a lot of photographers are shy about photographing human behavior, and it shows in their work because they are too far away, or rely on telephoto lenses that flatten perspective and often rob the picture of critical context for meaning. The late, great photojournalist Robert Capa, known mainly for his combat photography, was also an accomplished street photographer. (Combat photography is essentially street photography, only there is a war going on.) It was Capa who said “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re probably not close enough.” His passion for people was at the core of his work.

Capa’s friend and business partner, the late Henri Cartier Bresson, is also regarded as a street photographer, although he called himself a surrealist, and Capa suggested he market himself as a photojournalist or “he would never sell any of his pictures.” Cartier Bresson was the supreme master of the decisive moment – capturing a split second of human behavior with meaning, and then integrating that moment into a geometrically inspired composition that intensified the meaning of the story.

It is no accident that these great street photographers made a living shooting for journalistic publications. Photojournalism is visual story telling, too, only it is based primarily on newsworthy events and people.

I was inspired to produce a gallery based entirely on the ins and outs of street photography when fellow pbase photographer Jen Zhou abruptly made her startling transition from shooting beautiful landscapes, pretty flowers, and lovely architectural studies to eloquently photographing people spontaneously interacting with each other on the streets of her vibrant city of Shanghai. She called her gallery “Everyone Has a Story,” ( ) , and it throbs with vitality and human values. Jen not only shows enormous potential as a visual storyteller, but she also uses the key principles of street photography that I demonstrate and explain in this gallery. I owe the idea for this gallery on street photography to Jen, and dedicate it to her. I hope that both she, and all of you, will benefit from it.

All of the initial examples posted in this gallery were made on the streets of various European cities in the summer of 2004. I've subsequently added examples of street photography to this gallery made elsewhere as well. I’ve selected most of these images from my archive of digital travel articles posted at:

This gallery is presented in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a detailed caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.