It’s not difficult to argue that the history of street photography is also a history of photography itself, a position upheld in Bystander: A History of Street Photography, by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz, published this month by Laurence King Publishing, a revised version of the 1994 book. The new version includes more than 300 images illustrating the genre, in chapters that tell a detailed story about its development, from the invention of photography through its 20th century rise to the changes brought by digital photography. Each of the book’s four main sections is grounded in the work of a definitive photographer of the era—Atget in the 19th century, Cartier-Bresson in the 20th, Walker Evans before the Second World War and Robert Frank after it, along with comprehensive essays about the artistic and technological developments of each time.
In a conversation in the book, Westerbeck and Meyerowitz discuss some of the changes to street photography since the book was first published, including the addition of Vivian Maier to the canon and the rise of the internet as a community for street photographers. They also talk about the many new photographers they have come to admire in the intervening years, photographers who “act on instinct, they have feelings, and in that incandescent moment of ‘feeling/recognition,’ they know and don’t know, yet they are impelled to shoot, to ‘make a photograph,'” says Meyerowitz. Among today’s street photographers, he sees the “vestiges of the spirit that drove the early street photographers who were hungry to understand the meanings underlying urban life…These values are alive today among these younger photographers, armed as they are with digital instruments, which come with their own mechanical and temporal problems, yet these artists work around them and continue to invent today what will pass for history tomorrow.”
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