Back in May we began our annual search for the most influential street photographers of the year, asking you, our readers, to submit names and ultimately vote to decide the 20 Most Influential Street Photographers for 2016 according to the Streethunters.net Readers. As is often the case with our ‘most influential street photographers’ search, our poll generated a fair amount of controversy. Some of it was warranted, and some of it was down to people not fully understanding the nature of the poll. We learn something from the feedback from the posts each year, so this year we decided to write a ‘debrief’ of sorts to help understand and interpret the polls, and to show that we take our feedback very seriously. So read on for the Street Hunters debrief of the results of the 20 Most Influential Street Photographers of 2016!
The History of the Street Hunters Most Influential Street Photographers
Back in 2014, our first-ever list of The Most Influential Active Street Photographers was compiled by the co-founder of Streethunters.net, Spyros Papaspyropoulos. Spyros listed 10 street photographers, wrote a short biography of each one, and explained why he felt each photographer was ‘influential’ and merited a place on the list. After some suggestions from our readers, he even added an extra two names to the bottom. This gave us an idea. For 2015, we decided to open the list up to you, the readers, to allow you to recommend and vote for the street photographers of 2015 who most influenced you. In doing so, we sought to create something exciting – a crowdsourced list of working street photographers! The results and nominations were very exciting. This year, we ran the poll again, so we could see the effect of a year’s changing trends and styles on the most influential street photographers. Who would be the movers and shakers, rising stars, or new kids on the block?
The Title – The Most Influential Street Photographers According to Streethunters.net Readers
We thought very carefully about the title and nature of our poll, as we didn’t want to create just another ‘Best of’ or ‘Top 10 Best’ list, as there are enough of those online already! The goal of our search was to create an aggregated list of street photographers whose active work influences the street photography community. A big portion of that community is YOU, the readers of Streethunters.net. You all hear a lot of our opinions week in week out through our blog posts and features, so allowing you all to nominate and then vote for photographers gave us the chance to hear something back from you. We didn’t want to hear which street photographers you all thought were the best ever, or we would have titled the poll ‘The Best Ever Street Photographers According to the Streethunters.net Readers’. It is also our intention to run the poll each year too, and there wouldn’t be as much fun in running a Best Ever street photographers poll every year – it wouldn’t be likely to change much year on year – the icons and legends remain just as good as the years go by!
As for the shortlist – we supplied a list of 21 photographers to get you going, each of us selecting 7 photographers who have influenced us over the last year. This was just a starting point though – our aim was to get you involved, so you could add your own street photographers into the list who have influenced you. This had several benefits. For one thing, it’s hard to keep our fingers totally on the pulse all the time – and there are street photographers working all over the world that are influential in different ways. Opening the vote up to all our readers ensured we got a good spread of names, and stopped us existing in our own little bubble! Another benefit concerned fairness. We knew any shortlist by definition was going to make some people unhappy, as we’d end up leaving some names off. Or perhaps we’d overlook a photographer by mistake. A public nomination would ensure a diverse spread of street photographers without any possibility of accusations of bias from the editorial team in terms of sex or race – this has been brought up before, and while we naturally find the accusation wholly inaccurate, we do not want to embrace positive discrimination or tokenism. As far as we are concerned, it is the work of the street photographer that matters above all else. A public nomination though, removes any questions of bias in the shortlist from the editorial team, and also helps to give the final list more credence as a truly crowdsourced list. Naturally there had to be some editorial review at some point – which is why we reviewed all the suggestions for the shortlist to make sure that the photographers could be considered in some way influential, and had a large body of street photography work. The final shortlist comprised 115 names – meaning that 94 names on the shortlist had been supplied exclusively by you!
The Nature of ‘Influential’
Perhaps the most controversial part of the poll concerned the nature and interpretation of the word ‘influential’, and perhaps we have some lessons to learn here too for the future! For us, the word ‘influential’ was the most important part of the title! Our aim was to create a list that represented photographers who were influencing street photographers and street photography fans throughout the world. Influential didn’t mean ‘best’, or ‘best ever’, but rather photographers who managed to engage with their audience through their work, tutorials, writing, or legacy. The legacy point is a little contentious, and is perhaps something we will need to modify in the future. We felt the influential list needed to include living street photographers, which meant no place for legends like Saul Leiter, Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier Bresson. While these masters are influential by virtue of the body of work they have left behind, we felt we had to draw the line somewhere, and encourage more contemporary ‘active’ street photographers to avoid producing a ‘best of’ list. Perhaps we need to consider adding something to the title for the 2017 poll!
What we like about our ‘most influential poll is that it combines the names of well-established titans like Alex Webb and Martin Parr with modern contemporary photographers, and also takes into account something which is and absolutely crucial and fascinating aspect of being a modern artist, and that is engagement with one’s audience. Eric Kim for example, while not only being a great street photographer, absolutely earns his place on the most influential list for his tireless work as a tutor and blogger. His blogs and free resources have surely brought many new people into the street photography world, which makes him extremely influential. Another great example I feel is the superb David Alan Harvey. Not only are his photos truly exceptional, but he also wholeheartedly embraces social media, and is extremely active – he’s always popping up on my Instagram feed! He also edits and publishes burn magazine, an online journal promoting new photographers.
Social Media & ‘Popularity Contests’
Obviously any public vote comes down to being a popularity contest of sorts, and to an extent that fits our ‘most influential’ title. However, the fact we are discussing an art form does begin to make things a little complicated. I know some people felt that the most influential street photographers poll was too open to being abused by friends voting for one another, or could descend into a popularity contest rewarding photographers with big social media followings. There is not much we can do about that. The aim of the poll is to have it decided by readers, and so ultimately we have to trust in everyone to vote honestly for the street photographers they feel are most influential to them. That is itself is a personal decision of course! As for the poll rewarding those photographers who can mobilise fans on social media or are just popular – that is the nature of the beast. You can make a convincing argument that for a photographer to be influential in 2016 they NEED to be active on social media, and by being active they are likely to gain followers. As for mass market or popular appeal vs obscure unheard of an unappreciated ‘genius’ – that is an argument as old as art appreciation itself! The poll is designed to be a public vote, and so that is what it reflects. And, after all, street photography is a niche sub genre of photography with a very dedicated following, so is not as open to the ‘tyranny of the masses’ as much as some other more generalised fields. At the end of the day, we trust you, our readers to show us your true feelings in a poll, and you did!
The Final List – A Reflection of Who Influences You in 2016?
When all was said and done, we had 20,357 votes in the poll for the most influential street photographers of 2016. We deliberately don’t make the order of the photographers clear, as the poll is designed to create our top 20 photographers of the year. With a few exceptions, you would be surprised how evenly the votes are distributed amongst our top 20. This would suggest that our photographers are influencing you, the readers. And that is what is most important with our poll. It is not designed to be something that gratifies us as editors – if we wanted to (and felt like dealing with the controversy) we could compile our own lists of ‘top street photographers of the year’. What we really want is to get a feeling of who is popular, important and influential with you all, right now, because that is what is really important and interesting to us. Street Hunters is a global website, with readers from all over the world with different backgrounds, united by a common love of street photography. Our most influential street photographer polls allow us just a moment to get an idea of what matters to you, and for us, that’s invaluable. Some of you may not think it’s perfect, but it’s the best thing we have!
Do you have any suggestions for ways for us to improve the most influential street photographers polls in the future? Leave your suggestion below!