What’s street photography (for you)?

February 25, 2015 - just words

The case of photographer Espen Eichhoefer, whose image of a woman walking the street had to be removed from an exhibition in Berlin after the woman pictured sued him and the gallery for violating her personal rights, and the change of the German criminal code with respect to photographing minors and people in defenseless situations re-started a heated discussion about street photography in Germany. Espen Eichhoefer lost his case while the court didn’t grand the monetary demands by the accusing party. Now he plans to fight the case of street photography if needed to the highest legal instance in Germany. Espen started a crowd funding campaign on startnext.com and as of now (2015/2/24 @ 9pm) the score is larger than 16,000€ of the originally planned 14,000€. The media as well as several blogs picked up the story with a “safe the art, safe street photography” tenor.

Some sources I found online (mostly in German): ttt – respected art and culture TV magazine, Berliner Morgenpost – newspaper, fluxFM – radio, a blog post by Mario Sixtus with a very polarized discussion.  A critical opinion defending the personal rights was written  by Elias Schwerdtfeger and the Spuersinn blog even wrote about some artistic alternatives.

Only little is said about the woman who sued and won. I hear a loud outcry that the art of street photography, mastered so well by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Elliott Erwitt  and Walker Evans, is in its final stage diseased by the cancer of personal rights. And while we are presented a lot of ugly grimaces and average as well as thoughtless photography under the mantle of “art”, only a few voices talk about a person’s legal right to its public image. I take pictures and know that it is difficult and often not even wanted to exclude people in my photos. However, it’s possible to include people by showing respect following some common sense. Photographers can’t do what they want justified in the name of art. On the other hand, legal actions and damage payment demands by people unwillingly photographed need to be reasonable. The task of the law is to keep both sides in balance. Yet, I do see complications in the days of the internet, social media and the easiness of taking/posting pictures to find the “right amount” of law which is not just talking about egocentric and self proclaimed street photographers like Gilden and Leuthard but the making and distribution of child pornography and all kinds of sick stuff having found a nutritious ground in social media. Maybe a little bit “more” law is better than not enough.

The crusaders of street photography often argue that art should be free and that everything is allowed for the sake of documentary. To a certain extend I agree but who defines what is art or documentary and how to include the object in the process? Is a photograph of an isolated woman rushing with her shopping back from one place to the next really art/documentary or is it just the repetition of something that flew by many times before in our social media streams? Does a line up of inspiration- and emotionless images suddenly become art/documentation? Or could it be that these self proclaimed street photographers just hide an endless stream of boredom behind the “liberty of art”?

What we do here on 100strangers.info is just one way to find a balance and commit photographer as well as its object into a dialogue. We try to tell the stories and show the portraits of people in their every day life by means of communication. We not only show a portrait and tell a story but show the inside of the photographer. Every of our posts is a debate with ourselves and the things around us with the difference that our subjects are an active part of the communication.

› tags: discussion / eichhoefer / gilden / leuthard / photography / streetphotography /


  1. I agree with what you say Ijon, but still I love street photography, and in my case the candid images ( even of my family members) look more natural and applying for me . Though of course the permitted portraits, made in right moment and from the right perspective can show the soul and the story , not only of the subject but the photographer himself. Thanks for the post, Ijon, Really there is a subject to think about !

    • IjonTichy says:

      i agree with you that candid photography can add humor or drama to a photo. For me personally the mastering of environmental portraits of people seems more challenging and give more room for learning about others but also about myself.
      the good days of street photography started fading with the commercialization of digital photography. I strongly disagree that all the new found street artists should demand t be above to law for the sake of art.

  2. These are important issues you touched in the post, Ijon. I’d like to reflect, it’s been itching anyway.
    Recently I’ve seen a set of photographs, proudly presented by one of “fashion?” photographers, who shot his models sitting in icy winter water, all crunched and clenched and blue, pressing their goose-bumped butts to old trees bark. I felt for those girls. I didn’t find that attractive a bit. There was no art, no concept, no point. Pure brainless abuse of those models. For such a photo to be art it’s not enough to gather a bunch of nude girls in the snow and make a session. It doesn’t have any aesthetic appeal. Not to me anyway. The same is for street photography. For it to be art, and hence, to be treated and excepted as art by all parties involved, it needs much more than a collection of snatched faces of strangers in black and white. You all know the scared deer look, or plain angry look I see every day in any stream of any street photography pool… When I see those angry faces, I feel for them, because this kind of photography is a pointless violation of privacy – the faces say it all. I also feel for those people because I am one of them. The last thing I want when walking in the street is to have some guy suddenly clicking into my face. This said, I admire street photographers, the legacy of Brassai, Erwitt, Helen Levitt, Aart Klein and many, many others created. But times change. We all must admit that we live in different times, and street photography must adjust. We evolve. We must evolve, our awareness of other person right for privacy must evolve. Also, we must evolve as photographers, as artists. Billions of street shots are taken daily. Think of that… How many of them are good and worthy only time will tell. By the look at any photo stream most of it is rubbish, not worthy a click, really. Easy come, easy go… It gets cheaper, all of it. Human being in front of your camera becomes a passerby, an object you snatched, stole while he wasn’t looking… And for what? Was it a great shot? Was that so necessary? If it was so important – why haven’t you asked… Choose another angle, another set, another day… For me the point is in being selective, and choosy, and thinking of street photography as art. So it must have a point, an answer to why. Artistic appeal, it justifies a lot. Also for people who got on a picture. I am also in doubts, and torn apart often, between the good, the bad and the ugly of (street) photography. I understand that one gets lucky sometimes, when out of hundred clicks one is a winner… So, what would you give up for that one? What is the cost? Would you care for another human being, to have a great shot? It’s strictly personal choice, between being a photographer as an eye, or being a photographer as a heart. it’s a personal photographer’s choice. I couldn’t /wouldn’t have taken pictures of my child getting deadly sick, like one of my fellow photographers, a mother, did. I was shocked. I considered that an abuse of very intimate, very vulnerable situation for the sake of social network admiration. Because the story was dramatic, and social network loved it. I wouldn’t be able to get my camera at such a moment, I would have hold my child. Maybe I am not professional and coldhearted enough… So, for me the person goes first, always. People should feel at ease, posing or not, but they should feel safe with a camera around. Candid or not… It’s about people. We are all different, people looking at others through the lens. You are absolutely right about finding a golden middle, a compromise, suitable and beneficial for everybody. I also agree, that street portraiture , when people are willing to pose in front of your camera, is a great way to document our times. Respectful, too. Humane. We are not just the attachments to our glass. To be a photographer of people is a responsibility, a privilege, not an advantage. My personal opinion, no offence to anybody.

    • IjonTichy says:

      Dear Olga, I’m sorry that I only have time now to read your comment and answer. I will answer first your first comment and afterwards read the 2nd. Unspoiled, basically 🙂
      I want to start with a little story from a trip to South India. In a parking lot a very beautiful young girl came to the bus to beg for money. only when she was close we realized that one half of her body was totally burned inclusive her face. Some got up with their digital cameras and wanted to start shooting. Yes, they also wanted to give money but as kind of a trade.. I felt horrible and asked them why they want to take her photo and the answer was: documentary. I was so angry because it wasn’t about documentary but the sensation of someones misfortune. In the end nobody took a picture of hr and we collected some money. The girl didn’t speak englsih and I ask the driver to translate some questions. The girl was an orphan who is send by the “orphanage” to beg for money. After the girl left, the driver told us that it’s very liekly that the”orphanage” has done the bruning to her to get more money.

      Now I realize that we also have a part in what happened to the girl. She has to pay the price for our self-claimed “right” to document.

      And I totally agree with you and I’m glad you didn’t delete this comment. oops, i read the first sentence of the next comment.

  3. I’ve slept a night on it, and came back to delete my comment but I see no such option. So be it, let it stay. The reason I’ve been so explicit is that on one of the websites of an alternative photography (wet plate) I’ve read something that hit me hard. It hit me hard because it was true and not true at the same time. The author called contemporary photography, all of it which is not made on glass plates and hence, not meant to last long, lacking value, character and physical life, doomed to disappear without a trace. I disagree, at some point, for me the durability of a photograph is not the only value. But about the rest – I thought he was right for the most of it. I started looking at what I do differently. I cannot help it but hearing it in my head, over and over again: “no value, no character, no physical life” And I really want to prove him wrong. My comments are addressed to myself, in the first place. I am judging myself harder than anyone else.Value, character, life span – that’s what must be in every shot, Or I shouldn’t take it. That’s why I am having hard time thinking about photography these days. I am grateful to this blog, where I can share my concerns and my joys, too.

    • i am happy we haven’t included a “delete comment” button for you and honestly, we won’t delete it. instead we highly appreciate your thoughts and besides that i agree to the full extent. the discussion that goes on on the pro-side is very much polarized and ignorant towards privacy protection, the arrogance of many self-called street photographers give me the creeps while the woman who didn’t want so see her face in a gallery is called a “greedy bitch” who only wanted money. it is absolutely dissapointing that the call for privacy even in public places which is a basic human right to walk freely without being abused for something else and without knowing is answered by bashing and assumption. the most positive i read about people who declare their personal rights in that case is “esoteric”. people talk about “art” and name themselves artists and documentary photographers and whatever, they compare themselves with photography icons which ends in redicilous name-dropping. this world is so packed with artists that art itself moved somewhere else where it is very rarely see meanwhile. you know, i am a studied scholar in philosophy and philology, my scientific research and writing deals with aesthetic history and theory and i can say, the post-modern era is the most dissapointing ever, because here the subject actually just dissapears in cultural self-representation instead of reflection that contains a specific sense and meaning to society. art since romantic epoch isn’t mimetic anymore (and actually never was even in medieval ages people constantly declare), but self-reflection end in a “monad without a window” (a phrase by adorno probably mistranslated) in the worst case. i think we are very close to that … or even worse.

      thank you again for your thoughts and honest opinion that hasn’t to be deleted but to think about intensively and discuss on your highly reflexive and also emotional level. because this case not only deals with art, money or law, but personal needs, fears and feelings.

    • IjonTichy says:

      Olga, it is interesting that you talk and think about “your photography” and not about you as an artist or photographer. Also, that you look inside in self-reflection and not outside. I only would wish other people would look into themselves first before pressing the shutter.
      about the opinion of the wet plate photographer: Of course he isn’t right. Although, he’s got a point looking at the context here. the each wet plate photograph is such a long and involved process with lots of different layers of interaction between the photographer and the subject which happen in reality and the minds at the same time. he process of street photography i just a click with a super technical camera and a bit of photoshop. Mayhaps that’s a bit simplified but hits the point of missing debate.
      I’m glad that we work on something together that really matters to us 🙂 Thank you so much …

      • Thank you for your reply and kind words, Ijon! I agree pretty much about everything, except the thing about the wet plate process. 🙂 It does have a massive advantage above digital photography: a plate will live on, for hundreds of years. Digital photography, as easy it is to make, as easy it will disappear (most of it) from the face of the Earth, simply because of the same technology and advancing of data carriers (just an example: uncountable amount of data was lost forever, because it was stored on floppies by millions.) Enormous risk of loosing data is in the very concept of digital photography. This said, I am perfectly aware, that wet plate photography has enormous disadvantages, simply because you cannot drag that whole lab with you to shoot outdoors, in the street, etc. It’s in fact only about stills and portraits, with the single purpose: preservation. So, that’s why i’ve been thinking a lot lately about 1) make photography that is worth living longer and 2) to print books, to make photos live longer. The cost of that method dictates that i must be selective what I shoot and how. Including street portraiture, of course. Thanks again for a chance to have a interesting discussion here.

        • IjonTichy says:

          Olga, some thoughts on the “wet plate” stuff. I recently got back into the darkroom. I had one as a teenager for daily stuff and doing family photos. Late on I got one in NY since I had two bathrooms. However I gave it up since I moved to Asia. Now i do my third trial and already after some weeks, i feel my approach to photography changing.
          the first change: I need to pick the good negatives that are good for printing and look good in a portfolio or on the wall. It really is about light, pattern, subjects and only the best make it. Some of the negatives I’ve been printing over and over with different paper, contrast, toning etc. I realize that the interpretation changes every time I print.
          It is an entirely different “relation” to the image and if I’m forced to go back to digital photography I will rather give up photography.

          • Ijon, thank you for your comment. It’s really much simpler and different, what I meant by my references to the “wet plate”. How you photograph, what excites you most, what fun and how you are having it – doesn’t matter. Digital, analog, you name it, be my guest, and have the time of your life whatever it is you do. Dark room or light room – whatever makes your heart glow. What I meant was – how to preserve the work I do today for future. That simple. And there are a few possibilities to make my art last, may be not as long as “wet plates” but who knows. My answer to my own question is – books, printed books. Best way to preserve photos. The books like that, of excellent quality, are very, extremely expensive to make. This naturally effects the process of selection, and – naturally and logically – the process of making the photograph. From idea to execution. This is where all ends meet, whatever you preferences are, what style, what camera, what techniques – doesn’t matter for me. I am not a technique-focused person. When I look at some picture I am not interested in how it was made. It either appeals to me or not. That’s the only thing what counts, in my book. And if a picture is good, I would like it to last longer. Hence, the wet plate mention. I don’t even like wet plates, you see. They leave my heart cold, to be honest. They are all the same like twins. Even people on them look the same. Wet plate kills individuality of an artist, because the process defines it for him. Enslaves him, Dictates the concept, unlike any other technique. I would be bored by the third wet plate I made already. Don’t tell anybody. :)) It’s just a personal thing.

  4. Ernst Wilhelm Grüter says:

    Copied from G+, first part. Second part will follow tonight.

    I don’t like definitions of what is art or who is an artist. I don’t like a 100 year old law in Germany. Jurisdiction to my impression is used more and more for much too strong restrictions of freedom and it is also about my freedom as a photographer. Today there is a new law that forbids even pressing the shutter in certain cases. Incredible. I hate forthcoming situations where people start embarrassing discussion because I put my camera to my eye.

    I am happy with getting in touch with people, but it is not a must. It is an individual approach and for me it is my case by case decision.

    Am I an artist? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Problem is jurisdiction says it is the only way to shoot without restrictions. I am not allowed to show shots from the street on which people simply can be identified even if they are for me not important.

    Am I good in taking photos? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don’t want to take photos only from flowers trees animals houses. I see every day lots and lots of people and should not be allowed to take photos from them or should be obliged to ask in every single case?

    BTW. I think it is not a good idea to write an essay and complain about specific people. You don’t need to be a fan of Bruce golden or Thomas Leuthard but of course they are street photographers or we all are so called street photographers. Why do you name then in an essay?

    • IjonTichy says:

      thanks for your opinion. obviously i don’t agree with all you said, yet you got some good arguments.
      i’m not a photographer, i just take pictures. i’m not an artist, i still am entitled to my opinion. i’m not against taking images in the street, i’m just for the right of the individual to disagree to public display.
      photography was an art once but it got destroyed by mediocrity flying by in our social media streams. and instead of switching it off, we adulate this mediocre results of masturbation.
      btw why shouldn’t i mention gilden and leuthard? are you their lawyer? they can’t talk for themselves? they show no respect for people in their images which are published all over the place. why can’t i use them as an example to make my point?

  5. People have the right to disagree to public display. But don’t expect too much from new laws. Each new law is making a government stronger which I don’t like. There are certain risks in our lifes and we have to face these risks without the call for legal action. For me being photograhed on the street is such a risk. So approach me, if I am doing something which makes you feel uncomfortable.

    There are a lot of people around, which have no idea of … whatever. If they say, they are making art, they are artists, they are street photographers … who cares.

    I like the idea very much, that my photography is about me and people (on the street). It is about my perception, my reflection, my communication, my personal needs, my respect. Also about my mistakes and my development. And transience, the moment itseld and probably the outcome.

    @Ijon: a say “egocentric and self-proclaimed street photographer like Bruce Gilden” is not really purposeful. Bruce Gilden is … Bruce Gilden. I don’t know him, so I don’t care if he is egocentric. Even if he is egocentric … we are not equal. People don’t behave in the same way.

    Btw. Some images of Bruce Gilden I like very much.

    Sorry for so much words. Simply to much 🙂

  6. IjonTichy says:

    Hello Ernst Wilhelm, first of all, thank you for being open and discussing this important topic openly. I think it helps to communicate and it’s certainly also thinking about the topic as well as self-reflecting. You have to live with your decisions and I have to live with mine. There is no totalitarianism in right or wrong.

    You should read the reply I gave to Olga’s comment above since I have a very sad example about so called documentary photography.

    I just want to give and example of documentary photography which touches people, helps and gives back dignity. The man lost his arm and leg raising his family by the train tracks in Jakarta’s slum. Nachtway established a personal relation with the family, went back often and got the family help to live in a house and send the kids to school. That’s documentary that is authentic and carries a message for humanity.


    Sorry to say but the photography these street photographers are talking about is total horseshit.

  7. Many thanks, Ijon for your reply and also for your link to the photograph. I appreciate this and also the approach, this photograph stands for.

    I need to write something down to clarify things for myself. Yes there are a lot of people outside (and I may belong to them. Perhapy? Perhaps not?), which produces a lot of or talking about “horse shit”. This is something which is not very new in times of the internet. I try to get in distance to this approach cause in the ende it seems to be not helpful for me. I am not learning from them, it’s not what I want. It is only there to get my own contures.

    Personally I am referring to a category like street photography also in order to get own contures. 1st it is about photographs (HCB and others), I got to know when i was a young child/boy and I still love them, 2nd it is something deep inside of me related to these pictures, it is about the variety of human kind. 3rd I am German, to a certain extend I am slave to authorities. And if authority is saying, images of people are only allowed by permission or in the name of art, I try to obey to authorities.

    In the end there is not much left. It is about your own individuality.

    @Olga, you are referring to the wet plates approach and you are very impressed, because the results are sustainable and the production is sustainable as well. Today I am shooting (uncountable number of images, a lot of “horse shit”), doing a little bit of post production at the PC and publishing this in the internet and very seldom in real life. Everything very short, no deep knowledge but I love it and I love that nothing of it is for a very long time.

    Have a great Sunday, Ernst Wilhelm

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