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  • The Artist Gallery Team

Capturing the Decisive Moment: A Look at the Most Important Street Photographers

Updated: May 6

Street photography is an art that captures spontaneous and unposed moments of everyday life in urban environments. It has a rich history that spans over a century, with many photographers making significant contributions to the genre. In this blog, we'll explore some of the most important street photographers who have shaped the genre with their unique styles and approaches. From Robert Frank's raw and unvarnished images of America to Vivian Maier's intimate portraits of Chicago, these photographers have left an indelible mark on the world of photography and continue to inspire generations of street photographers today. So grab your camera and join us as we take a journey through the history of street photography.


 

Robert Frank

Robert Frank

Robert Frank was a Swiss-born American photographer and filmmaker, best known for his seminal book "The Americans," which captured a raw and unvarnished view of American life in the mid-20th century. Frank was born in Switzerland in 1924, and began his career as a photographer in the 1940s, working for various magazines in Europe. In 1947, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a fashion photographer and honed his skills as a documentary photographer.

In the mid-1950s, Frank embarked on a two-year road trip across the United States, capturing images of everyday life that challenged traditional notions of what a photograph should look like. The resulting book, "The Americans," was initially criticized for its unconventional framing and focus, but has since become a landmark work in the history of photography. Frank's images are raw and unvarnished, capturing a side of America that had rarely been seen before. His use of unconventional framing and focus challenged traditional notions of what a photograph should look like, paving the way for a new generation of street photographers.

Frank went on to have a long and prolific career as a photographer and filmmaker, and his influence on the world of photography continues to be felt today. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 94.


 

Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand was an American street photographer who was known for capturing the everyday life and culture of the United States during the mid-20th century. Born in the Bronx, New York in 1928, Winogrand grew up in a working-class family and attended City College of New York, where he studied painting and photography.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Winogrand began working as a freelance photographer, and his images were published in magazines such as Life and Sports Illustrated. He was known for his quick reflexes and ability to capture candid moments, and his work often focused on the urban landscape and the people who inhabited it.

Winogrand's most famous book, "The Animals," was published in 1969 and featured a collection of photographs of animals in zoos and other captive settings. He went on to publish several other books, including "Women are Beautiful" and "Public Relations," both of which focused on everyday life in America.

Winogrand's work continues to be celebrated for its ability to capture the essence of American culture and society during a time of great change and upheaval. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 56.


 


Robert Doisneau

Robert Doisneau

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) was a French photographer known for his charming and whimsical images of everyday life in Paris. Born in Gentilly, a suburb of Paris, Doisneau started taking photographs at an early age and quickly developed a love for the medium.

After completing his studies at the Ecole Estienne, he worked as an industrial photographer before being hired as an assistant by the famous photographer Andre Vigneau. It was during this time that Doisneau began to develop his own unique style, which focused on capturing the beauty and humor in everyday life.

Doisneau's work was heavily influenced by the surrealist movement and often featured unexpected juxtapositions and humorous situations. His most famous image, "Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville" (The Kiss), is a perfect example of his playful and romantic approach to photography.

Throughout his career, Doisneau worked for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Vogue, Life, and Paris Match. He also published several books of his photography, including "La Banlieue de Paris" (The Suburbs of Paris) and "Paris."

Despite his success, Doisneau remained humble and grounded throughout his life. He once said, "I don't photograph life as it is, but life as I would like it to be." Today, his images are beloved around the world for their warmth, humor, and humanity, and he remains one of the most iconic photographers of the 20th century.



 

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was an American street photographer who gained posthumous fame for her stunning and candid images of urban life. Born in New York City, Maier spent much of her childhood in France before returning to the United States in her early twenties. She worked as a nanny for most of her life, and it was during this time that she began taking photographs.

Maier's work was largely unknown during her lifetime, and it was only after her death that her extensive collection of photographs was discovered. In 2007, a Chicago-based historian and collector named John Maloof purchased a box of Maier's negatives at an auction and was astonished by the quality of her work. He spent the next several years piecing together her life story and exhibiting her work around the world.

Maier's photographs are known for their raw and honest portrayal of American life in the 1950s and 60s. She had a particular talent for capturing the personalities and emotions of the people she encountered on the street, and her images are often characterized by their use of light and shadow.

Today, Maier is considered one of the most important street photographers of the 20th century, and her work continues to inspire and captivate audiences around the world.


 

Martin Parr

Martin Parr

Martin Parr (b. 1952) is a British documentary photographer known for his satirical and colorful images of modern life. Born in Epsom, Surrey, Parr studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic in the 1970s before beginning his career as a professional photographer.

Parr's work often focuses on themes such as consumerism, tourism, and social class, and he has a particular talent for capturing the absurdity of everyday life. He has published numerous books of his photography, including "The Last Resort," which documents the working-class vacationers at a seaside resort in New Brighton, and "Common Sense," a satirical look at British identity.

Parr is also known for his work as a curator and educator. He has curated several exhibitions of photography, including the influential "Boredom" exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, and he has taught at numerous institutions, including the University of Wales and the Royal College of Art.

In 2014, Parr was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award by the World Photography Organisation in recognition of his contributions to the field of documentary photography. Today, his work is exhibited and collected around the world, and he remains one of the most important and influential photographers working today.


 

Street photography is a fascinating and dynamic genre that has captured the hearts and imaginations of photographers and audiences alike for many decades. From the early days of Robert Frank to the contemporary photographers of today, the streets of the world have been a rich and diverse canvas for photographers to explore and document.

Through the use of creative composition, clever timing, and an ability to capture the essence of a moment, street photographers have been able to create powerful and evocative images that often speak to larger themes and issues in society. Their work challenges us to see the world in new and unexpected ways, and encourages us to engage more deeply with the people and places around us.

As street photography continues to evolve and change with the times, one thing remains constant: the power of the image to move and inspire us.

If you loved the story of these photographers you may like to read more about four photographers that made history in the black and white photography.

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