Postcard-perfect portraits of glittery skylines provide polished glimpses of urban life.
But it’s gritty street photography that exposes a city’s throbbing heart – the “theater of the everyday” that unfolds on every corner.
Now, a massive tome called The World Atlas of Street Photography (Yale University Press, $45) has collected 700 street-photography images from around the world. And even if you thought you knew cities like New York, Rio, or Mumbai, these pictures will open your eyes.
Street photography has roots in the 19th century, with Paris considered its birthplace. As early as 1850, according to the online Art Dictionary, pioneering French photographer Charles Nègre shot busy street scenes; a half-century later, Eugène Atget documented old Paris. Legends like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Brassai, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans have all contributed iconic images to the genre.
If The World Atlas of Street Photography is any sign, street photography hasn’t just survived — it’s raucously alive. For Jackie Higgins, the London-based photography scholar who edited the book, that meant an epic journey from her desk around the world to do research.
“It took ages,” Higgins says. “It felt like a Herculean task. A regular day might start in Mexico, looking at the work of Oscar Fernando Gomez, a driver who lives in Monterrey, Mexico, who frames local life through the window of his taxi cab. And it could end up in Morocco, with the work of photographer Yto Barrada.”
Susan Sontag called street photographers “voyeuristic strollers who discover the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.” By capturing the magic of living in a great metropolis, these images bear that out. (The photo descriptions are provided by Higgins)