group show 39: 
Tough Turf: New Directions in Street Photography


“Well, I'm not going to get into that. I think that those kind of distinctions and lists of titles like "street photographer" are so stupid. I'm a photographer, a still photographer. That's it.” – Garry Winogrand from Visions and Images: American Photographers on Photography, Interviews with photographers by Barbara Diamonstein, 1981–1982

Street Photography is a historically contested genre, with debates ranging from its ability to accurately document truth, to rigid rules outlining its parameters. Before 2000, a large piece of this debate focused on darkroom-based alterations. For purists then, photographs that contained any form of manipulation (cropping, staging or digital adjustments) did not deserve the Street Photography classification. Today,  in many circles the battle rages on, but now it’s over the digital processes employed to determine its true Street cred.

Kerfuffle aside, many of the “genre’s” forefathers, specifically Gary Winogrand, highly cited and respected by his followers, rejected the uncompromising distinctions in place of a more open-ended approach to looking at, and making photographs.

Tough Turf, broken into two parts, explores how Street Photography has evolved in the new millennium since photography blogs, rapid-fire online image sharing and mobile photography, and how this all contributes to how people make pictures.

While the majority of “Street Photography” open calls continue to limit submissions to work that has not been altered in any way, Tough Turf encompasses a wider, and in some cases more tangential photographic approach. The resulting exhibition includes work from 26 photographers with a range of influences and ideas, some routed in more traditional practices, and others working far from the established “rules.”

Photographers like Natan Dvir (Part 1), Ruben Natal-San Miguel (Part 2), hold fast to the more straightforward traditions of Street Photography’s pioneers. Dvir’s work Coming Soon looks at the human relationship to the branded landscape in un-staged, candid images of people dwarfed by oversized billboards. Natal-San Miguel’s street portraits in gentrifying Harlem, pay homage to classic NYC photographers like Helen Levitt. Although made digitally, Natal-San Miguel does not alter his images, printing them straight from the digital files without even minor color adjustments. 

Alternately, digital intervention is central to photographers like Amani Willett (Part 1) and Pelle Cass (Part 2).  Cass, who creates composites of hundreds of “decisive moments” that meticulously curate and exaggerate the chaos of the world, takes Bresson’s idea and turns it on its hyper contemporary head. In similar fashion, Willett combines multiple images of the same person in various positions on the same street in order to “uncover an aspect of street life not usually seen in the single frame 'decisive moment' photograph.” Are Cass and Willet true “Street Photographers?” While many “hardcore street photographers” are quick to declare these processes photographic heresy, Cass and Willet's work is central to how the genre is continuing to grow.

Some photographers included in Tough Turf fall somewhere in between borrowing from multiple genres and artistic practices. In Wait Watchers, for example, Haley Morris-Cafiero (Part 2) uses the street to investigate public perceptions of feminine beauty. Setting the camera on a publicly visible tripod, or in the hands of an assistant, Morris-Cafiero makes self portraits of herself performing mundane tasks on the street, and ultimately captures the public’s troubled, and sometimes mocking eye. Although she does not engage in any in camera or post-production adjustments, her hand in the photographic process according to some, might be a form of manipulation.

Like Humble's earlier projects and exhibitions, Tough Turf maintains our curiosity in how photographic genres fragment, break down, borrow and develop. Whether they maintain a more traditional approach or diverge into digital “blasphemy,” each of the 26 photographers in this exhibition are vital to how Street Photography participates in this conversation.