Book Review: Women Street Photographers Edited by Gulnara Samoilova
When thinking of street photography, Vivian Maier comes to mind, and Lisa Kahane. And then, all of a sudden, I ask myself: What the hell is a street photographer? Do they photograph only streets? Do they photograph only what can be seen when standing on a street? Melissa Breyer quotes in her introduction the Encyclopedia Britannica that describes street photography as “a genre of photography that records everyday life in a public place … Street photographers do not necessarily have a social purpose in mind, but they prefer to isolate and capture moments which otherwise might go unnoticed.”
Difficult to imagine a definition more vague … Melissa Breyer dryly comments: “While the discourse over what comprises street photography may endure into eternity, the body of work by Staten Island resident Alice Austen could serve as a model for the genre itself.” And while I do agree for she “took photos of anything and everyone that interested her,” I also believe her approach to be a good recipe for any kind of photography – and so I decide to simply look at the photographs in this tome and see what they do to me.
But before embarking on this visual adventure, I feel like quoting Melissa Breyer again who describes what gave birth to photography: “ …a French inventor by the name of Nicéphore Niépce was looking for a way to make images without having to draw them.” I’ve no idea whether this really was Niépce’s motivation (I always wonder what makes people think they know the motivation of others – I cannot even figure out my own), but I love the story and so I like to think it was his motivation.
There are quite some shots in this tome that made me pause. Why that is I do not know for my brain finds the reasons for what I do usually afterwards. Not all of them I liked, some made me wonder why they were taken for they weren’t aesthetically appealing (to me, that is) and the reasons given why they were taken I sometimes thought rather far-fetched, others, however, I felt immediately drawn to and, since quite some weren’t included in the press images, I’d like to mention their photographers: Monica Flannery, Zeynep Ozcan, Karolina Trapp, Melissa O’Shaughnessy, Neta Cov, Selnur Okudan, Hana Gamal, Jane Zhang … I’ve just realised that I could go on and on …
The photographs come with brief texts of when and where and under what circumstances they were taken. I deem this a very useful approach for it displays the photographers’ views of their shots – and that is, in my experience, rather rare. Also, these texts provide at times quite unexpected and most fascinating insights. Niki Gleoudi, for instance, writes: “The ancient Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They asked only one question after someone died: ‘Did he have a passion?'”
I thought the personal philosophies most intriguing, and especially the ones I can easily identify with. Here are three examples that also describe my own experience while shooting pictures. Deb Achak: “My goal while shooting is to react to what is in front of me, even if it’s not what I set out to capture.” Ania Klosek: “I took a couple of shots and when the lady with the apron appeared in the frame I knew it was the moment.” Dimpy Bhalotia: “Being present in the moment is a core component of street photography that resonates strongly with me.”
Another element that captivated me was that when taking photographs one is not always aware of what one is photographing but only discovers later on what one has been capturing. Lou Gilbert: “It was only after I looked at the image on camera that I noticed the seated locals in the background, which added another layer to the narrative.”
Photographs show you that there are other ways to look than your own. And, when they are accompanied by words (like in this tome), they have the potential to introduce you into the wonderings and ponderings of the one who took the pictures. The colours and the framing of So.aSa’s shot of the young woman in Bastia, Corsica, France, for instance, I thought riveting. “I’m sure she was on a date,” So.aSa writes and makes my imagination go spinning. Similar sensations I experienced when confronted with Julia Coddington’s shot of “red shoes skipping over the curb and crossing into the shadow.”
Women Street Photographers does not only show a hundred moments frozen in time, recorded in various locations, but also gives testimony to what Patty Jansen aptly stated: “Sometimes photography is all about experimenting and the joy of the unexpected.” A real treasure trove!
Women Street Photographers
Edited by Gulnara Samoilova
© Prestel Verlag, Munich · London · New York, 2021
Women Street Photographers website: https://www.womenstreetphotographers.com
Gulnara Samoilova website: https://www.gulnara.com