Street photography is traditionally part of the “straight photography” movement, priding itself in the unaltered photograph that, without bias, documents real life. Street photography has continued to fascinate us for more than a century, capturing people with absolute candor in public places and providing a clear view of humanity. The practice of street photography has become even more popular in the twenty-first century—favouring society’s increasing need to document, capture, and share everyday life, snapshot by snapshot.
Foncie Pulice, with his custom-built silver camera made of war surplus materials, could be found on Granville Street from the mid 1930s through to 1979. He took thousands of photographs—capturing families, couples, and friends happily strutting through downtown Vancouver. A strong sense of wanderlust permeates Foncie’s Vancouver portraits. The excitement and energy captured in the faces of Foncie’s public are at odds with the face society would put forward to a twenty-first-century photographer—a public now highly sensitized to photography, privacy-obsessed, and acutely aware of the disjunction between public and private realms.
As our personal space in public areas decreases in all cities, we continue to have an increasing need and expectation of privacy. It is a violation of Charter Rights in Canada to stop a person from photographing or filming in a public place and private spaces where public is admitted. The photographer has full legal rights to publish those pictures and films. A police officer does not have the legal right to confiscate or delete any photographic material for any reason unless the person is breaking the law and the images are relevant to the situation. Social media and self-profiling have become the norm; and through our own awareness of self-image we have a need to control how we are represented and identified in order to feel secure. The online personal profiles that we create often overlap our personal, professional, and social worlds, and we have a hyper-awareness of ourselves virtually, which creates a physical disconnect with our environment and each other.
Lincoln Clarkes, directly influenced by Pulice, exhibits both a romantic and reverent orientation toward his subjects. His photographs, voyeuristic and unposed, capture the experience of an ordinary public and the myriad of social forces that shape their existence. Clarkes’s voyeuristic and romantic approach to street photography allows us to observe the candid expression between us and the street. Clarkes views this series of photographs as “sexed-up, environmentalistic, fashionesque portraiture, which is a subtle protest against the petro-chemical and automobile industries.” “An overdose of advertising has been glamourizing cars for decades, convincing us of their must-have status, but this attitude feels tiresome and outdated in the light of the environmental situation that engulfs our planet today. These mundane vehicles and the false freedoms they seductively promote have led us to a dead end. By contrast, there is a new wave of cycling that is of tsunami proportions, not just for leisure and pleasure, but for the need to be able to travel in a civilized and sensible way in the modern world” (Judith Tansley, May 2013).
Brian Howell’s sociological examination of our technological dependence points toward a cultural obsession with smartphones and casts a light on the changing nature of street photography in an iPhone addicted landscape. John Goldsmith’s work examines the social aspects of people inhabiting the built environment; his photographs combine a theatrical mood with the aesthetic and cadence of contemporary street photography.
Fostering a collaboration with each subject on the street is the basis of Angela Fama’s response to Foncie. Her subject’s insecurities seem to slip away and they are able to become open to the experience with some sense of control and understanding. The willing collaborators only agree to become a part of the project when they feel like they understand that the experience will be safe. Angela Fama’s work investigates themes of memory, meaning, emotion, and change.
When the subject on the street is involved in the photograph and feels like they are in the know, they are more likely to become a willing participant. Foncie Pulice would photograph his subjects and then hand them a ticket so that they could then collect the photograph if they wanted to, giving control to the subject, removing feelings of exploitation and concern for their privacy because they were the ones giving permission and were provided with the information they needed to follow up. Over decades, Foncie created a close bond with his public so that they eventually knew what to expect from him, allowing them to genuinely engage with the photographer. Human connection is a powerful tool for a photographer.