photographer shooting down a street

Inspiration: 5 Masters of Street Photography

Though nothing beats getting out into the world with your camera, as with any art, it pays to learn from the greats. With that in mind I’m kicking off a new series – ‘Five Masters of…’ – detailing my favourite photographers working across different fields. Without further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here are our inspirational and influential top five street photographers. Fancy hitting the streets yourself? Also check out our 5 Ways to Improve your Candid Street Photography and get your Cartier-Bresson on!

Leaning Tower of Pisa Tourists from Small World - Martin Parr

Leaning Tower of Pisa Tourists from Small World © Martin Parr

Martin Parr

British Magnum photographer Martin Parr is truly a chronicler of our times. His contribution to the world of photography goes beyond his own stunning photobooks (all 90 of them!) through his lectures (he has been a professor at Newport University in Wales and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland), his curatorial work (Strange and Familiar exhibition at the Barbican, London this year and the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2010 to cite but a few projects) and involvement in chronicling the art of photo publishing having edited many historical books.

Whistlestop CV over (phew!)… what makes this master’s work special is his humour and unfiltered honesty that often borders into the grotesque. He says his research areas are “leisure, consumption and communication” and the result is a garish and original body of work with a mountain to say about the way we live now. His oeuvre is colourful, flamboyant and fun, but always relevant and touchingly profound insights into normal life.

woman running in an alley

Untitled, 1971 © Daido Moriyama

Daidō Moriyama

From frank colour to mysterious black and white, Daidō Moriyama (Big Dog of Japanese street photography) has grown an international reputation for his grainy, gritty images of sleaze and unease. Now at 77 year old, Moriyama continues to be a prolific image maker and was awarded the Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement from the International Center of Photography in New York, for his efforts.

Setting out to document the breakdown of traditional values in post-war Japan, he has created a stunning social commentary, whilst also shaking up the aesthetics of photography with striking and iconic imagery. His radical politics, disapproving of the Westernization of his country, resulted in revolutionary brutal, honest and sometimes downright erotic pictures of Tokyo’s grimy street life.

humans of new york

“I’m just working on universal peace and getting everybody to love each other. I’m an official brother man. I’m the one. Well, I’m one of the ones. There are all kinds of brother mans: black, white, Indian. A brother man is somebody who helps when people need help. A brother man will stand up and say: ‘That’s not right.’ A lot of women are brother mans too. But we don’t call them brother mans. We call them sisters.” – Humans of New York, March 12th 2016

Brandon Stanton

The mastermind behind Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton isn’t a street photographer in the traditional sense. Rather than candidly documenting urban society, he takes deliberate portraits which are accompanied with anecdotes from the people he pictures. The Humans of New York blog has become a phenomenal success and the honesty with which people impart their tales of love, loss and life to the photographer make us think he must be a pretty great guy!

What began as a project to document 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, has grown and grown – Brandon now has over over twenty million followers on social media and has published two photo books. The collective image of humanity that he has captured is extremely moving. We salute him for his recent and important work travelling to the Greek islands to document the stories of refugees fleeing war to Europe.

Taxi by Saul Leiter

Taxi, 1957 © Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter

Another New Yorker (the city that births and breeds street photographers – William Klein also really deserves a spot in this list), Saul Leiter was a pioneer of both early colour photography and the street photography with a lifetime’s worth of thrilling work shot just a few streets from the apartment he lived in his entire adult life.

An eccentric and aesthetic original, Leiter saw himself as a painter first and didn’t really receive the acclaim he deserved for his boundary-pushing photography. His images are utterly distinctive and still look contemporary in 2016. Bold colour (often the result of buying out of date film, as the artist was always broke) and disorientating framing are the hallmarks of his sublime and unashamedly beautiful images.

madrid by henri cartier-bresson

Madrid, 1933 © Henri Cartier-Bresson

I simply couldn’t not include Henri Cartier-Bresson really could I?! The French Godfather of candid photography, with his humanist impulses and ‘decisive moments’ created truly iconic images from the everyday, and that is a central tenet of what the medium has come to be known for – creating the exquisite from the ordinary.

Even if you somehow escaped the name, you will have seen one of Cartier-Bresson’s images or perhaps be familiar with one of his inspiration quotes about the art of photography. Shooting on 35mm film in Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Madrid, he was one of photography’s greatest talents and his legacy and influence is huge.

As the master himself put it “…in photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotiv.” His style, avant-garde and original at the time, is now considered a cornerstone of good photo-journalistic practice.

Who are your photographic inspirations? Who else would you include in this list? Let me know in the comments below!

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