Here’s a shocker: we at Bamboo Scenes are big fans of street photography. You’d never have guessed, right? There’s something about this energetic, of-the-moment style of photography that captures the essence of a city—its frenzied pace; its intriguing architecture; and its colorful characters. These days, smartphones in hand, all of us are amateur photographers, happily snapping whatever strikes our fancy. But what do we really know about the history of the craft?
A Brief History of Photography
"Cotton Candy, Majin Buu" (2017) by Vivien Liu - Kowloon, Hong Kong
Although photography has existed in one form or another for millennia. In fact, Greek Philosopher Aristotle discovered in 500BC that by channeling sunlight through a pinhole, he could create a reverse image of the sun on the ground, essentially creating the mechanism for the first primitive camera. Then, some 100 years later, around 400BC, the Camera Obscura was invented, the predecessor to the modern camera. But, modern photography as we know it came of age during the Victorian Era—amidst the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. The world’s first photograph—or at least, our oldest surviving photograph—was taken in 1826 by inventor and photography pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in France’s Burgundy region. Spoiler alert: it was a pretty awful, unfocused, blurry mess of shapes.
Henri-Cartier Bresson, by Photographer Jane Brown, Photo Courtesy: The Guardian
In the decades after Niépce’s nascent attempt, photography came into its own. During the Edwardian era, photographers would take peoples’ portraits on the street—for a fee, of course. During the two World wars, the “war photography” style developed, as did the idea of photojournalism. After the wars, as cameras became more affordable, candid and documentary-style photography became popular as photographers like Henri-Cartier Bresson and Diane Arbus began documenting quotidian lives—both the ordinary and extraordinary—eventually developing the idea of telling stories for future generations.
During the two World wars, the “war photography” style developed, as did the idea of photojournalism. After the wars, candid and documentary-style photography became popular as photographers like Henri-Cartier Bresson and Diane Arbus began documenting quotidian lives
Types of Street Photography
Los Angeles, California (1969) by Garry Winogrand, Photo Courtesy: Estate of Garry Winogrand (Artblart)
There are, of course, many different photography styles, and street photography is just one of them. But even within this genre, there are several different types. There are the brash, intrusive images in the style of Bruce Gilden and raw, unfiltered, evocative photos; there’s the geometric, architecturally-driven style created by a focus on structures and the elegant, fine art approach that mimics the art of the Old Masters to tell stories and provoke emotions; the intelligent focus on decisive moments a la Garry Winogrand; and, of course, a type of portraiture that captures people in uncontrolled environments.
Pioneers of Street Photography
"Pantheon Rue Soufflot" (1976) by Robert Doisneau - Paris, Photo Courtesy: Holden Luntz Gallery & "Corner3” by Photographer Michael Wolf
Today’s street photographers owe their craft to those who came before, working to establish their work as an art form to be taken seriously. Here are just a few to note:
- Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose dramatic black and white photos are some of the most beloved street images of the 20th century
- Robert Doisneau, one of France’s most respected photographers and a pioneer of photojournalism
- Berenice Abbot, a fiercely independent and determined American documentary photographer who was a proponent of modernism in photography
- Steve McCurry, a freelance photojournalist who’s become one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography thanks to his portrayal of human struggles, conflicts, cultures, and more.
- Michael Wolf, a German artist and photographer who focused on life in megacities—including the cramped apartments, towering skyscrapers, and crowded trains of Hong Kong.
- Stuart Franklin, the British former president of the Magnum photo agency and documentary photography, who took the iconic “Tank Man” image in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989
Bamboo Scenes Artists
Of course, being that our Bamboo Scenes collective includes eight incredible Hong Kong-based photographers, some of our artists, inspired by the city, have developed a niche in street and urban photography.
"Primary" (2019) by Gideon de Kock - Tai Kok Tsui, Hong Kong
South African-born Gideon de Kock plays fast and loose with his camera to take candid photos that combine film, street, and documentary elements. He never leaves home without his camera, and mainly shoots on film with an analog camera. We love how he captures the details of mundane daily life in Hong Kong.
"Above The Red Sea" (2017) by Jeremy Cheung - Jordan, Hong Kong
An avid storyteller, Jeremy Cheung is dedicated to capturing Hong Kong’s urban stories through his lens, showcasing the city he grew up in through fresh eyes. Through his work viewers can embark on a visual exploration of Hong Kong’s history. Did we mention he was recently acclaimed in the “2021 Hong Kong Photo Contest”, winning the City category with his photo “Man in the Mirrors.”
"Urban Ceremony" (2017) by Kevin Mak - Sai Wan, Hong Kong
Kevin Mak brings an architectural eye to his photography, capturing Hong Kong’s unique urban and spatial perspectives while embracing its layers of history and blending of culture. Through his art, he portrays the order that underpins the city’s chaos.
All our street photographers bring their own unique visual stories to life through their art, and we love to share these stories with everyone else, in Hong Kong and around the world.
So what’s next for photography? It’s no secret that at Bamboo Scenes, we’re fully embracing the metaverse and believe in the potential of photographic NFTs. But, we still strongly believe that there will always be a place for traditional photography art.