I often read other Street Photographers complaining about how staged street work is spoiling the craft and taking the focus away from what street set out to be - candid, unplanned moments.
In many ways I agree with this sentiment, it puts a cloud over what is a wonderful aspect of the arts. Not only that, it is disrespectful to others within the field who put in countless numbers of hours walking the streets trying to get that one shot. The reason it is such a stain on the craft is because people are reluctant to admit when a street photograph has been staged, instead passing a wonderful piece of work as “having an eye for detail and being in the right place at the right time”. We all know it happens, nobody is being fooled here, and there are many Street Photographers (far far more experienced than me) who have been in the game long enough to know you have better chance of hitting the lotto jackpot than coming home with some of the images that people claim to be candid.
Staged Street Photography is art.
That said, this doesn’t mean staged street photography is not a skillful art. It very much is and deserves to stand outright in it’s own category. Whilst I have seen many an image and thought “oh come on that is more staged than a broadway play” it is not my place to call anybody out. Which is a shame, because once I see beyond the frustration, I see some wonderful bodies of work that should be celebrated. To be able to take a vision to the streets and put together a balanced, colourful, well timed image, can at times be both inspirational and exciting.
I think part of the issue that makes people closet Staged Street Photographers, is the stigma and criticism that comes with it. Your hardened tog will argue “that is not proper street photography” whilst others will slam you “for not having any real talent”. If we can move past that and see the craft for what it is (a great way to create world class content) I think we can embrace it more and encourage people to “come out”. #safespace
I think a great way to start is by having it as a category in competitions (I am yet to see this but if there is an organisation doing this then please let me know). I would have no issue with seeing a “Staged Street” category, in fact it would allow me to not have the feeling of anger when I see a photographer misleading everyone. As I said, staging something is still an art and a photographer should be credited appropriately for the work they do.
Another step would be to be honest in our communities. Tell people in your Facebook group or Flickr page that you had a concept of a great street image, planned it, got all the required materials and then put it together. I think people would have much more respect for your work if you did that.
Taking my own responsibility.
One of the first steps I am going to take from a personal standpoint, is to admit that on one occasion when I first started out, I too was guilty of staging a street photo (I am not proud of it, okay!).
Here is a candid shot I took a few years ago. I like the principles of the image (aesthetically it could be better but I was just starting out) however at the time I felt it lacked something and needed more power.
So I contacted a friend, we discussed what she would wear and how she would stand in order to make the image better. Here is what we came out with…
At the time I fooled myself by saying “it came from an authentic image so it is not that staged”. However I did not tell anyone of the plan I had, I let people believe (or not) that it was a candid moment that only my talented eye could capture. I cheated them and I cheated myself.
Unhappy with the feeling, I told myself I would never stage my street work again, unless I was prepared to be transparent about it.
What do you think? Should staged street photography be sent to burn in hell? Should we embrace it? Or should we continue to live the lie and pretend that all is okay?
Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading.
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