Masters of Photography

Under the influence of Weegee


The line between photojournalism and street photography can be a blurry one. Though there are clearly defined examples of each, some work straddles the line. The determining factor on how you categorize one of those images depends solely on your definition of each. Some say everything is street, and other types of photography, like photojournalism, are just a sub-genres of it. Others say street is a bastard child of photojournalism. But does it really matter? The question, in my book, is tired. Just like film and color vs. mono. However, we like categories. Categories make things easy. Easy to market and easy to consume.

Long before there was social media and a “need” for such debate, there was Weegee. Weegee didn’t care about the line. He crossed it, went back over it and, at times, erased it.

Weegee, the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig(1899-1968), was the original tabloid photographer. His claim to fame was his stark and gritty New York City crime scene photos, along with his images of fires, car wrecks and other tragedies. But buried underneath his shocking news photos was a lovely portfolio of street work.

Fellig got his break into photojournalism in the 1930’s, breaking out of his job working in the darkroom at Acme photos, a stock photo company. He would go out at night and photograph crime scenes while the staff photographers slept, but he never received credit for his work from the stock company. Going freelance, he then developed a relationship with the Manhattan Police Department.

Elliot Erwitt Street Hunters promo


Ask me to name my favorite photographer once or month, or even once a week, and each time you’ll get a different answer. That’s the joy of this new found romance, photography. But had I “discovered” Elliot Erwitt first, before all these others I’ve researched, I don’t know if that opening statement would hold true.

Elliot Erwitt (1928-present), has been a photographic dynamo, and a durable one at that. In a career spanning five decades, he has been one of the world’s best and celebrated photographers. Being both a fan of historical images and ones that can deliver wit in a clever way, Erwitt’s work is the latest goldmine that I’ve been digging. And the mine is deep. Fifty-plus years worth of digging will give you that depth.

André Kertész


Street Photography, at it’s absolute best, has soul. Timelessness. To catch that soul, that moment, is the goal of any photographer. The formula that makes that moment is complex. It’s a frantic computation of light, time and action. However, it’s one that I often disregard. Instead, I let the world around me dictate what’s going to be shot, doing the math for me. And sometimes, it’s about being invisible, as well. To be the observer. To go unnoticed, even if up to only the very last possible moment. What better way to get that soul? What better way to take what the world around us offers you? André Kertész mastered this, stealing bits of soul and beauty from the world while rarely interacting with the subjects in his view. He made visual poetry. And, in my opinion, was the foundation on which the advancement of great street photography was built upon.

Under the Influence of Khalik Allah


In doing this series of Under The Influence, I’ve been simply amazed by the works of the “masters”. And by “masters” I refer to hallowed names in photography, particularly street photography. Some living, most passed on. While busy poring over these greats and their works, it easy to lose sight of this: there’s masters working right now. Young, vibrant, and destined to be legends as well. Out there, now, on the streets and breaking rules. Blazing a new path. Shaking things up. And these men and women are doing work that simply should not be ignored. One such photographer is Khalik Allah.

We here at StreetHunters are passionate admirers of Allah’s work. His work has been featured as one of our photos of the week and, most recently, Khalik participated in one of our Hangouts. For me, his work is beautiful, powerful and, at times, poignant. But that really is an understatement.

Khalik Allah’s work, for a brief period, made me want to give up photography. Honestly. It’s *that* good. It’s *that* powerful.

Now you may think that’s absurd. A naive thought from someone who has no confidence in their ability. To a degree, it is. But there’s something to be taken from such an absurd notion. Something quite valuable.

Under the Influence of Helen Levitt


It’s been said that we are judged by the company we keep. Certainly there is truth in that. As people, when considering our basic moral fiber, this applies. As far as street photographers go, this applies as well. I’m not saying that a photographer is good because they ran in a certain pack, but  this idea definitely holds water in the interest of research and discovery. Basically, when looking at the masters of the craft, if a name is mentioned as a contemporary of that great, the odds are… they’re worth checking out. And, it’s a low-risk bet that their work is going to be pretty damn good.

For example, look at this crew of contemporaries from the New York City scene in the 1960’s and 70’s: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. All greats. Imagine them bouncing ideas off of each other, pushing each other. Great company. Going further back, consider this power trio: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans and Helen Levitt. However, these three did not run together, so to speak. Helen Levitt was friends with both Cartier-Bresson and Evans. Though her name is not as hallowed as her friends’, Levitt was, without any doubt, a master. And the likely reason she’s not as “famous” was her reluctance to talk about her work, it’s that she shied away from the public eye, generally avoiding interviews.

Under the Influence of John Gutmann


A student, at any age and at any stage, treads a well-worn path. I consider myself a student and I’m on a path. I research and study street photography greats for equal parts advancement in my own development as a photographer and for just pleasure. The path of research, as I’ve said before, is well-worn but with reason. The names link together, one great leading to the next, making the path easy to follow. The names Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Winogrand, Doisneau… they all are markers on the path. But sometimes, the path becomes too familiar. You see familiar sights. The same images pop up again on the mostly digital and sometimes hardbound trail I take. Then something, or in this case, someone different catches your eye and you must detour. Hours pass and you realize that the neck of the woods you’ve stumbled into isn’t that far off the path, it’s just been neglected. This particular neck of the woods I thrashed my way into belongs to John Gutmann.

Gutmann(1905-1998) was, in my humble opinion, a true pioneer in American street photography and his story is fascinating. Born in Germany, Gutmann studied art in Berlin with the great Expressionist painter, Otto Mueller. He then became an art teacher. As the Nazi regime rose to power he was prohibited from practicing art. Being Jewish, he was also forbidden from teaching, He devised a plan to escape Germany. The plan was brilliant… buy a camera.

Under the Influence of Bruce Gilden


Bruce Gilden. In the circles we run in, the very mention of his name seems to part the masses like the Red Sea. There doesn’t appear to be anyone on the fence. Love him or hate him, that’s it. But the opinions on him always seem to go back to the way he works. Once one watches a video of him in action, an opinion is immediately formed. More on that later. Regardless of how he operates, there’s one thing that can’t be denied… he’s an amazing talent. His images back it up and they command respect.

Gilden(born 1946), has been with Magnum photos since 1998. Before I continue, let me say that by being a member of Magnum does not mean they are the photographic equivalent of a “chosen one”. But I’ll be honest, the name Magnum carries a lot of weight for good reason. Almost much everything I’ve seen from Magnum shooters is pretty damn stellar. Ok, let’s carry on.

Gilden is known globally as a street photographer and, from what I’ve read, he proudly considers himself one. He’s been walking the streets of his hometown, New York City, for over twenty years and bringing to us what most folk consider “hardcore” street photography. Why is it hardcore? Simply put, Gilden gets in people’s faces. And he’s still doing it to this day. “The older I get, the closer I get.”

Bruce Gilden doesn’t sneak candid shots. He pounces into the subject’s personal space with his camera and handheld flash and fires. Watch the available YouTube videos and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. There’s no stealth mode. No hiding. No being clever or coy. Just a full-frontal attack. This is how Gilden operates and what has forged his style.

Under the Influence of Lee Friedlander


Perhaps the greatest thing when looking at the masters of Street Photography, besides the work itself, is what I call the “chain”. After only being a student of street for a year, each master discovered is new and fresh to me. The research of that master then begets research into another. Whether that next master is an influence of, an influence on our a contemporary of… each great is a link in the “chain” of discovery. No one great is the end all. Each is a stepping stone to another.

I’ve come across Lee Friedlander’s name numerous times in my journey, but never took the step  in his direction. Why? Ignorance, really. His name was always referenced, especially when digging into Winogrand, Meyerowitz and Arbus, but it wasn’t as “talked about” as the other big names in street. Dare I say not as revered? Granted, Friedlander is still living, and his name is not hallowed. Do a search of Friedlander and you’ll understand what I mean. Critics and “experts” praise him, but his name doesn’t seem to have the marquee power of Cartier-Bresson, Parr, Winogrand, Arbus, etc. Why? I don’t know. But, after diving into his work, I can tell you that it’s a crime that it does not.

Lee Friedlander (born 1934) is about to turn 80 and his body of work is simply massive. Friedlander moved to New York in 1956 and made a living photographing jazz musicians for record covers. After that he freelanced for magazines like Sports Illustrated, Esquire and Art In America. In 1967, he was featured in the monumental New Documents exhibition at the Museum Of Modern Art along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. In New York he kept company with other greats like Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Richard Avedon. In the 1960’s, Friedlander’s name was synonymous with Street Photography. It’s been written that he showed us the true “social landscape” of that time.


Art, like life, can be way too serious. Street Photography is no exception. Personally, I’ve found myself too wrapped up in trying to capture the “decisive moment”. Or, maybe worse yet, pressuring myself to seek out that compelling subject or composition. This can be a dead-end road for any street shooter. It can be lost on us that life and our practice of street photography, is also really a comedy of errors. Life is lived through lessons we’ve taught and, hopefully, learned from mistakes we’ve made. Street Photography is much, if not exactly, the same. But life is not just a comedy of errors, it’s also just a comedy. We, as humans, are playful creatures. We joke, we laugh, we kid around. We do silly things. We wear silly clothes. And if you think about being a Street Photographer, well you also realize it really is a fool’s folly. Think hard about that! Maybe war photography could be more unpredictable and/or dangerous, but street photographers are the foot soldiers on our everyday streets. A bold analogy that can be debated, for sure,  but we are the “boots on the ground” documenting, capturing everyday life. Capturing and documenting life… truly a fool’s folly and an incredibly tall order! And some brave Street Hunters may choose to put themselves in “hairy”situations in order to get a stark, grim or chilling shot. But most of us walk on well-paved streets. Walked on and paved by people like us… common folk. Being human, being playful. For this week’s Under The Influence, I’ll be taking a look at the master of being playful and one of the early masters of Street Photography , Robert Doisneau. Come along, let’s lighten up a little.

Under the Influence of Joel Meyerowitz


New York City. Beloved, yet despised, it is a, if not the, cultural Mecca. That being said, it is obviously a street photographer’s utopia. The vast diversity of people and cultures, the architecture, the styles, the atmosphere, the FEEL. There is nowhere else like it in the world. I Now imagine the Big Apple in the 1960s. An incredible decade of change and cultural turbulence. And imagine seeing icons like Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and Ted Papageorge walking the city and joining their skills. And alongside them is this week’s subject, Joel Meyerowitz. Since I’ve touched on both Winogrand and Arbus in the previous two features, let’s stay in a New York State Of Mind. Let’s go under the influence of Joel Meyerowitz.

Meyerowitz, 76, has shot street in his hometown of New York for over 50 years. Five decades of shooting in the “greatest city in the world”. That’s dedication. Meyerowitz was driven to photography by Robert Frank in 1962 when working as an art director at a studio shoot that Frank was doing. Frank’s movement had tremendous impact. He dove into street photography shortly thereafter and later began hunting in the streets with Winogrand. Meyerowitz shook up the street photography scene by starting to shoot in color. This choice went on to impact other titans like William Eggleston and Martin Parr. Meyerowitz was a Guggenheim Fellow twice, received National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and taught at the prestigious Cooper Union. However, he didn’t really receive great notoriety until his book, Aftermath: World Trade Center, was published in 2006. The gripping work documents the cleanup at Ground Zero of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He was the only photographer granted unimpeded access to Ground Zero. Meyerowitz is still actively photographing to this day.