There is no paternity test when it comes to pinning down street photography’s DNA. As this book demonstrates so clearly, it is a genre that borrows from other forms—sculpture, theatre, video, installation and participatory art—and mingles their many presences into single frames. If your idea of street photography is limited only to the classic names like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Garry Winogrand, this book will offer you a whole new world of possibilities.
The familiar idiom of street photography is bounded by the idea of the photographer as a fly (or spy) on the wall. This figure is an auteur of the sidewalk, a roving eye who captures moments within the flow of street life, a merciless shutter arresting people’s motion as they go about their everyday lives. This view of street photography is not missing from Jackie Higgins’s anthology—but as the book includes the work of more than 100 established and contemporary photographers, she shows the breadth and variety that the genre contains today.
Shizuka Yokomizo, for instance, dropped invitations into the letterboxes of strangers, asking for their participation by standing in their window at a specified time when she would be outside on the street waiting to photograph them. Melanie Manicot asked members of the public to stand informally as a group and look at the camera, while Mohamed Bourouissa, almost like a film director, stages “performances” using actors, props and controlled lighting to create mises en scène. Matt Stuart, on the other hand, waits for the subject to appear, never moving or altering anything when it does—even if this means lying at curb level for half an hour until a pigeon steps by in tandem with pedestrians. Different again is Massimo Vitali who stays upright, perched with his large-format 11x14 Deardorff on custom-made platforms (reaching up to 9 meters high), capturing panoramas of life in public places.
The World Atlas of Street Photography is an adventurous book that traverses the miraculous as well as the mundane, bearing testimony to Tony Ray-Jones’s words about street photography: “Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk, like Alice, through a looking glass, and find another world with a camera.” There is certainly an Alice in Wonderland quality to some of the images, while others capture not so much the “decisive moment” as the purely serendipitous.
Given the ambitious scope of Jackie Higgins’s book, the variety should not surprise. In total, her Atlas covers five continents and over fifty disparate cities. Although not every street will suit every viewers taste, the streets of the world surely hold enough diversity and enough wonder to capture the imagination of anyone who’s willing to take a look.
Sean Sheehan is a freelance writer and the author of Jack’s World, with photographs by Danny Gralton and Ciaran Watson.
(U.S. edition published by Yale University Press)
(UK edition published by Thames & Hudson)
The World Atlas of Street Photography
by Jackie Higgins
Hardcover: 400 pages