Street Photography – Why Don’t They Like Me ?

10th January, 2011 

The very youngest of my trio of spirited step children suffers from a condition known medically as, “Pervasive Development Disorder” (PDD). It’s a condition which falls into the broad autistic spectrum of disorders and most notably brings about developmental delays in both socialization and communication skills. There is very little grey in her black to white scale and as a result, a recurring motif in and around the Nowhere Man shack resonates to the reasoning …
“Sweetheart, you can’t MAKE people play with you”.

And so it was just the other day, when reading through Nick Turpin’s interesting blog post, “Photography, Commerce and Success”, I found the piece eliciting an almost identical PDD response  ... using a sing songy tone and a tired inflection I engaged my computer monitor with … “Street Photography, you can’t MAKE people like you”.

In a detailed and thought provoking essay, the 779 head man laments the general lack of interest shown toward street photography via the ‘art world’. Before proceeding forth to offer a kind of benign Berlin Wall solution of, stuff em, we’re all right mate; cos we’ve got each other … and Flickr.


Sorry, that’s flickr not flipper !

“ The opinion of my peers, dedicated Street Photographers internationally for whom I have enormous respect, mean’t far more than that of the photography director of Tate Modern or Moma ever could because these people are image makers in my field who are making some of the most exciting images of our era, they are the true ‘experts’ and their judgement is totally unsullied by whether or not my image will sell copiously in numbered editions”  - Nick Turpin

& also

“I am delighted if Jen Beckman or Robert Kock like my work but will it be because they like my work or because they think they could shift it in editions”        – Nick Turpin

Nowhere Man wholeheartedly embraces the altruistic, rank and file vibe here, however would point out that ‘I like your stuff man!’ can be tarnished in many more ways than simply the commercial… most notably I would suggest is the sickly pursuance of personal politics. Let me use Nick Turpin as an example – for Nick’s a proactive, and talented chap who has kicked off both In-Public and Publication and is also a fine photographer in his own right – now this is a guy a streetie with ambition could do well to get in tight with… ie. “Love that pic Nick”, or “Couldn’t agree more Nick”.  This phenomena of disingenuousness is most evident on the various street photography discussion threads where the ‘democracy’ of the net bobs vibrantly, awash with varying degrees of cow towing, gushing and sycophancy, often in direct proportion to a posters perceived position in the big picture pecking order. So I guess one needs to sift and nurture (and use less ‘p’ words so close together). Nick waxes lyrical about the private in-public forum, an exclusive sounding board open to a select band … so there you have it, the filtering has been done. However surely the Englishman’s piece is aimed at the whole street photography community and so here we are seeing beautifully polished pink lady apples sitting at odds with the Valencia oranges, deep down in the frosty crisper of tiered experience.

Secondly I would point out that people aren’t their jobs. I mean what if the photography director of the Tate spent his weekends walking the streets with much hope in his heart, nabbing the passing throng with a Leica … and yet the acquisitions policy he oversees from 9 to 5 can genuinely find no place for our genre - this stark differentiation between the professional and the personal is as paradoxically commonplace as is red dirt in the outback. For example, do you remember the happily married, right Reverend Jimmy Swagget – man of the slightly soiled cloth who picked up his pay cheque preaching absolute monogamy, whilst in complete contrast, during his out of office time, was off shagging street corner tail like some randy 22 year old south island sheep crutcher.

Jimmy Swaggert
 So I think it’s fairly pointless and intellectually quite rank to build an ‘us v them’ scenario. You can’t make people like you, and if an art institution doesn’t like a certain set of images – hey, that’s their prerogative. It’s silly to then push out the bottom lip and infer that because they’re not in the game, what would they know about it anyway. Driving a wedge, by way of delivering the emotive counter punch smacks of setting ones estuary crossings alight atop Bath, sans bathwater, recent offspring and a dog eared copy of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’. For if this argument were followed through … can we assume that men have no hope of knowing anything about child birth, woman nothing about State of Origin rugby league, any of us diddly squat on the subject of dying… opinion is opinion and diversity in such things is immeasurably invaluable (i.e. it’s a good thing).

“I suspect they are not even aware of it but street photographers have already created a new model for defining success as a photographer, a model that is completely free from commercial concerns and a model that relies not on ‘experts’ who have never lifted a camera but on the real experts, their peers. The new model is, of course, Peer Review.”     – Nick Turpin.

Let’s face it, attempting to measure success is about as pointless as scratching a mozzie bite. How could anyone seriously consider a gaggle of thumbs up mouse clicks to be any more legitimate a yard stick in determining the success of one’s work than the free market or even the  ruddy verbosity of your friendly bus driver who loves to qualify all his visual arts appraisals with, “I dunno much about art mate; but your stuff’s f**kin good!”  For keeping it all in-house never really works (look at North Korea). A parochial generosity of spirit masks any hint of reality and the only true marker is to be found within.

If I take a photo and I grow to like it … then that is success.     

I truly admire Nick Turpin’s drive. And yet in reading his piece, my mind became fixated on thoughts of disposal store Buddhism …and for some reason – chocolate Bavarian pie.  Nobody loves a street photographer, excepting for another street photographer – so hop aboard the SS Internet and let’s all sail off the edge of the world together. Dr Nowhere Man’s advice would be to just relax, enjoy the journey, take ya 5 decent street pic’s each and every year, show them to everyone and no one alike – for it’ll ultimately lead where it’ll lead … and if you truly enjoy doing it – who the f**k cares where it leads anyway. Remember your destination is dust. It’s the love in the room that matters, not the hum of the adulation meter nor the tinny tone of the cash register ... but then I think I’m about 87% in agreement with Nick on that point, mmmm, probably timefor another tumbler of grape...  

Click here for Nick Turpins, "Photography, Commerce and Success"


Anonymous said...

Best thing I've read in a long weekend of reading.

(Think I'll keep it anonymous so you won't think I'm just sucking up.)

Anonymous said...

Right on.

jophilippe said...

Couldn't agree more... and by the way I love that Flipper pic .................. Ooops.

The funny thing about your story about that fictitious Mr Photography-Director-of-Tate is that it could apply to the real Mr Szarkowsky when he was directing the photo dpt at NYMOMA.

Anonymous said...


Nick Turpin's street photography expert's manifesto is laugh out loud funny (not in a good way).

jon said...

Nice essay. You can't demand recognition as a right, no matter how good you are.The world doesn't work like that.
I almost clicked on the flipper vid. I shall save it for later. I used to love that show when I was very young. Kind of an aquatic Lassie. . . or would that be another name for a Scots mermaid har har. . .