Street Photography: Shared Experience of the Mundane

Photography is less about document or evidence and more about community and experience… and that’s not a bad thing.

Stephen Mayes, director of VII Photo Agency

At the moment, one of the characteristics of modern photography, acquired due to the dynamic aspect of social networks, is the ability to identify with the distant mundane. Thanks to this trait, the present captured by my device is integrated into your daily context as something recognizable and familiar. My daily life is yours, and yours becomes mine as well. The aforementioned process ensures that the image becomes delocalized, which allows to conceive it as ubiquitous.

We share the same point of reference through publishing the photograph on-site and instantly. We are part of the same experience, photographic and real life at once. The interactivity of the web allows us to share the photographic practice but also invites us to project ourselves onto the fragments of reality which, to begin with, should seem foreign to us due to being distant from our daily reality and surroundings. This effect makes it possible for those who participate in a network dedicated to photography to have a chance to perform two different roles: a mere witness of scenes and a selective receiver of those images that suit his/her interests (aesthetics, morals, etc.).

Smartphones let us instantly travel to a place and action that aren’t close when we launch an image into an open web. This given practice is entertaining since every street photographer uses different apps that can apply various filters and finishes to the initial shot.

The process of editing, digital developing and publication is very quick, adjusting itself to the emotional message we want to transmit. This way, that which attracted us to capturing the image, extends to all of the users of the app who are capable of reading the photograph thanks to the same shared aesthetic code.

It’s no longer necessary to compose a series of photographs in a way that tells a story. The narrative isn’t any more supported through the discursive coherence of a set of images linked together in some way. Now each photograph receives its meaning thanks to the exchange of experience of the group of photographers/viewers who shape the community.

How does this transmission of the emotional message contained in the capture of public scenes happen? It’s essential to keep in mind that many of the filters used simulate analogic processes (b/w or toning), offering a result that most people preserve in their memory and associate with images of the past, but which seem familiar, close, mundane.
Other filters offer a realistic, or even a hyper-realistic, finish (using HDR), which helps standardize the peculiarity of each scene through the same representative system. These examples illustrate that the use of popularized digitalization of the image, through the apps, is actually a means that allows us to decipher a far-away reality, providing a connection between my experience as the receiver and the experience of the person who took the photograph.

On the other hand, this capacity to share experiences isn’t based on what we want to say with the photographs. For example: the images that comprise this book don’t mean to describe everyday moments but to show that the interesting thing is to note the emotional plane that underlies the state of things presented. It’s the showing (and not the telling) what allows to make from this streaming photography a medium based on everyday experience. Instead of worrying about showing reality through a handful of pictures, which we know won’t encompass all of it, we decided to show a single image that allows for the game of shared iconography to happen. We are interested in the ludic value of the evocative and not in the normative of the descriptive.

All of the above gains much more emphasis when we refer to street photography. What use will an autistic image have in a reticulate environment, sustained by the exchange of impressions based on personal experience and made available thanks to a photograph shared on the web? It will have the same use as an empty glass of water in the middle of a desert.

While the capture of a fragment of reality is personal, its meaning is strengthened and renewed in the face of each “like” or comment. The fun of instant critique of an image has to do with interpretative diversity, provided that it’s based on a shared experience, to the point that it’s easy to find collaborations between different members of the same network. Somebody in New York takes a photograph on the subway, and it’s processed by other members (for example, from South Africa, Iran, Spain, Australia or Argentina) thanks to technological resources that promote cooperation. This process, open to reinterpretation, is viable for establishing a similar concept of urban reality, a reference point created together, thanks to shared practice, based on which the detection of common traits in personal experience becomes possible.

We find something familiar in images that don’t correspond to our close environment but show us something that invites us to generate analogies with our own daily life.
We feel comfortable projecting our experience as part of this photographic framework, by default foreign to our environment, since it generates a recognizable echo associated with an event in which one way or another we see ourselves immersed. By projecting my way of conceiving the world onto this cutout of reality contained in the image, I manage to shorten the distance of experience between the person who took the photograph and myself, the observer. At this point it’s easy to recognize that I’ve used the act of sharing this experience as a tool for the interpretation of the scene.

The experienced empathy is the pavement on which we, those who believe that photography is more than just a static registry, move. The images are waiting to be read by someone foreign to their content while its hermeneutic value is irrefutable.

The images in Passengers don’t define themselves as the description of the events trapped by smartphones; they do not recount the obvious occurrences that might happen during a trip on public transport but try to show the emotional facets that go beyond the mere explicative discourse. That’s to say they mean to share the same experience, the experience of juxtaposing yourself into ubiquity that’s ludic and participative, where the rules of the game are adjusted according to interpretive modifications generated by collective intervention.

Godo Chillida