Review: World Atlas of Street Photography (Jackie Higgins)

20150525 World Atlas

I have not studied photography formally, but take solace that many of the 100 photographers featured in this thorough volume of the urban landscape and its people have learned their craft from the harsh realities of the street.

Nevertheless I may be utterly under-qualified to provide a meaningful critique of this very considered book, The World Atlas of Street Photography, published by Thames & Hudson.

Author Jackie Higgins has done a masterful job. The structure of the book is geographical, by world region. Each photographer gets a page or two, with a pertinent selection of his or her work.

As one would expect, most images feature people. Some are candid; others are posed. And some photographers concentrate more on the physical environment — the human influence without the presence of any inhabitants themselves.

What I like is that there’s no need to read the book from cover-to-cover. You can peruse the pages and stop and inspect more of what captures your eye. (Perhaps not unlike the behaviour of a practiced street photographer.) The biographical entries are well written and easy to digest.

Max Kozloff sets the global scene in his foreword. I particularly like his statement of how “photographers have reacted with a discursive strategy of their own”, including a response to “post-modernist scepticism towards documentary forms”.

Because street photography tells stories, of the photographer and the photographed. Some stories are easier to decipher from the images than others, but story telling is one of man’s longest-running habits. Long live the documentary style, updated for the 21st century.

And that is my only mild criticism — there is no modern signposting of any of the photographers. Perhaps these acclaimed artists are beyond Flickr and Tumblr, but I would have appreciated links to at least portfolio websites. There’s also no bibliography or further reading section.

Yet The World Atlas of Street Photography should be on any self-respecting street photographer’s bookshelf. Jackie Higgins achieves her objective of showcasing illuminating juxtapositions, as she puts it, providing the reader with ample inspiration and insight of a wide variety of techniques and styles.

It is a true atlas of the street genre.

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