It's become a bit of a trend over the last few years to (rightly) question where the genre of Street Photography is heading towards. With typical arguments decrying the modern-day facts that "everybody calls themselves photographers", "everybody carries a camera", "social media sites are flooded with bad and mediocre images", ""likes" have become more important than real skill", ... bla bla bla ..., together they stack up making a highly compelling case justifying the demise of Street Photography.
Some of the most compelling arguments can be found in these recent PetaPixel articles "Is Street Photography Killing Itself" and "Why Street Photography Matters in 2017". While some articles (rants?), which coincidentally flourishes both online and in traditional printed magazines, sometimes contradict each other, I've yet to come across an article offering a plausible solution other than something along the line of "work your butt off to be better (and unique)". It is comforting though seeing that even some of the younger "Instagram" generation of serious, award winning street photographers also actively take part in the discussion with "How To Stand Out Among 2.6 Billion Photographers", which can only bode well for the future of the genre.
As somebody who's been an active street and travel photographer for the better part of ten years, I often share these frustrations. As I get older (and probably more of an asshole about such issues), I've often thought about expressing my own rants about the same well worn subject, as I've been fairly involved on a number of online platforms during this time. This includes being a "host" for the Street Photography and Photojournalism Group on a well-known art sharing and selling website, which involved selecting around twelve images per week to be featured. What initially felt like an honor and privilege to regularly work through thousands of submissions in order to select and showcase the best of the best, eventually turned into an absolutely dreadful task, flipping through pages and pages of mostly mediocrity and absolute fucking garbage. Really only a few photographers regularly posted quality work, and as to be expected, ended up being featured over and over again. At least this ensured that some of the best talent still rise to the top, but the effort involved in finding these inspirational images was truly exhausting.
What also got me thinking about this again, is that I've recently been invited by Google+ to become a "curator", helping to select which G+ Collections are worthy of being featured. I've been a longstanding member of G+, where my own Collections are currently being followed by anything between about 36,000 to 45,000 followers, but as honored as I am having received this invite, cannot stand the thought of how much garbage I will have to filter through on a regular basis in the hope of unearthing those rare special diamonds. I'd much rather spend that time learning from others, be out shooting, or appreciate a flow of great, inspiring images that pushed my own preconceptions and self-imposed boundaries.
I'd imagine that most street photographers want to be part of online communities and social networks, as this truly is the modern way to be seen and discovered. The problem (for me) with most such platforms is that when you join a specific interest group, one's "image feed" is usually also bombarded by all the substandard work being uploaded, not only the good stuff. This kind of lowers one's expectations, apart from the occasional brilliant image that may come along, leading to inevitable boredom and disillusionment with the genre (and the community). Despite our best efforts and intentions, there seems to be no escaping the flood of substandard mediocrity!
Being at a crossroad myself about my own future in Street Photography, and (again) asking myself what real value there is in each of the online platforms I currently support, it is time for me to again reconsider and "resign" from those who fail to inspire me. This usually leaves a bit of an empty feeling for a while, as I always carefully consider, and even agonize over my options before committing to a Community. Closing it down amounts to abandoning a bit of my soul that I've shared with a community, feeling like it's been effort wasted.
So, what is the solution to all of this?
This is not a simple question, but personally, I believe that highly curated online communities is one plausible way for serious street photographers to reclaim their territory. One of the best such communities I've come across recently is Urban Picnic Street Photography (UPSP), and there are others. Being a fresh, new member of UPSP, I'm still slightly confused how the submission process works between the actual UPSP site and their Flickr group platform, but most importantly - all submissions from the public are curated before a choice selections is released into the group's public "Photo Pool". They also sport a rather ambitious mission statement (that I'm sure takes a lot of effort to enforce) and links to a very interesting article that defines what good street photography is - "The Five Levels of Street Photography". This is a community where great work gets filtered from the mediocre, where a serious, talented contributor can feel proud to have made the cut, and where chasing "likes" kinda don't really matter anymore.
Sure, all of the usual online platforms will still remain, new ones will come along, and most of us will probably continue to support them (because it's exposure, it's fun and we all secretly enjoy collecting "likes"), but curated communities will continue to inspire us by showcasing only the best of the best, while inspiring us all to work a lot harder to reach that level where ones work is recognized and displayed. This gives me hope that Street Photography stands a fighting chance to once again stand rightfully proud, separate from the mediocre masses who masquerade as street photographers and chasing after those popular, but empty "likes".
There is a lot of life left in Street Photography - you'll see!
(Please note that I'm not being paid by any party mentioned in this article to promote them)