Street photography is always a case of timing. Having patience to wait long periods of time for the right opportunity. Holding a camera, poised and ready to shoot, at the precisely right time. Possessing the ability to envision the elements of an image falling into place ahead of time. Being in the right place at the right time in order to freeze a fleeting moment.
A close cousin of documentary photography, candid street shots have led to some of the world’s most captivating imagery, as shown in Magnum Streetwise, a new tome published by Thames & Hudson. As a discipline, it’s intrinsic to Magnum’s core, given that co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson doubles as one of the forefathers of modern street photography.
While the term ‘streetwise’ might usually equate to being tough or cautious, McLaren casts it in a different light, highlighting how these photographers are adept at coping with (and embracing) the nuances of urban environments. “Streetwise photographers are instinctive readers of body language,” he writes, elsewhere adding that, “like taxi drivers, [they] know how cities work, how people rub along with one another, where the juicy action is.”
The book features work by over 60 Magnum photographers, including Elliott Erwitt, Martine Franck, Bruce Gilden, Steve McCurry, Susan Meiselas, and Trent Parke, many having left a distinctive mark on street photography, whether intentionally or not. Cartier-Bresson naturally has a section in the book, though timeless shots like Behind the Gare St. Lazare are absent, perhaps deemed too obvious an aspect of his expansive portfolio of street photography.
Martin Parr – who gave us his street photography tips earlier this year – also features, though with more muted, monochrome images than the kind of highly saturated colour shots that we might typically associate him with. In fact, readers might notice that many of the book’s photographs, particularly earlier works, are black and white. This is likely because Magnum had encouraged it for many years as a reflection of Cartier-Bresson’s disdain for colour photography, McLaren reveals.
Each photographer has their own section comprising a selection of their street photography highlights as well as written insights that bring stories to light. Alongside individual artist sections, Streetwise rounds up photographs into four pivotal locations within the realm of street photography: London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, each city with its own visual language. There are also sections on some of street photography’s core subject areas – In Transit, Days Off and Playing the Markets – which allows for a thorough exploration of how the photographers’ varying styles and motifs diverge.
Rather than go with the more obvious work that ranks at the top of a Google search, Magnum Streetwise does a fine job of introducing the lesser-known corners of the photographers’ portfolios, making for a revelatory read. Informative, visually compelling and genuinely exciting to thumb through, it’s a substantial tome that illuminates the work of some of street photography’s masters.
Magnum Streetwise, edited by Stephen McLaren and published by Thames & Hudson, is available from October 10 for £28; thamesandhudson.com