The fundamental difference between street photography and documentary photography


[I]'ve been labeled many times as a Street Photographer, while the title does carry some sort of Mojo with it, I have always considered a documentary photographer. Take up your dictionaries, here's the fundamental difference between the two types of photography.

First thing I would like to state is that everyone seems to have their definition of what Street Photography is. Don Springer is a big fan of saying “Everything is street”, that all the styles converge into Street Photography whether it is portraits, landscapes or candids. In that sense street is more of a flair, a style than a stiff categorization. While I kinda leans towards this definition, for this post I am going to assume what most people think defines street photography: Photographing people in the streets. Some interchange the terms street with documentary but I think there is a fundamental difference between them.

Street photography is concerned about the instant, documentary is concerned about the sequence. If there is a reason I call myself a documentary photographer it's because I am always after a sequence, not a one off shot. In street you are concerned about that one photograph, in documentary you are concerned about how a sequence will tell a story. One picture can of course concentrate a story within it, but the point is of documentary is STORY. This is why I somewhat dislike street photography a bit, I am only dealing with strangers when I know that each and every single one of them has a story to tell! I think when I am in the streets I am actually documenting the streets, capturing humans in their natural habitat, that's why I consider my street photography to be part of my documentary photography witch is part of my world domination plan.

I don't think I'm splitting hairs with this, documentary can be street and street can be documentary but I don't see them as one and the same. Heck, to be truthful I have a hard time seeing my work as Street, only documentary while in the streets. But we must not let definition bug us down, simply do what you do best, who cares if one calls it street or documentary, as long as you know what you are capturing is what you saw. Street? Documentary? Both? All of them is part of Vision, and as long as you have that, definitions are elementary.

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6 thoughts on “The fundamental difference between street photography and documentary photography”

  1. Pingback: What is the purpose of street photography - F8 Photography | Fort Lauderdale Documentary | Wedding Photojournalism

  2. Carlee Keppler-Carson

    You defined it quite well … to a point. Being in the same position, I find it difficult to want to be pigeon holed into one genre. At it’s core, Street Photography is and always has been the truest form of documentary work. Even with one shot there is a story. I have said that for me it is the ability to pull someone into the moment with you, to make them want to know more. If I can touch just that one.. then I have done my job. In my opinion, the difference really is that for most documentary and street have to do with where you are or choose to go.

  3. I think you described it quite well. To me Street Photography is a single image that may or may not convey a story. Documentary Photography to me is a series of images that tells one story. I don’t believe a single standalone image can be considered Documentary Photography.

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