Genres of Street Photography

Street photography covers a wide gamut of styles and subjects, and an equally wide range of intentions. The five images below were all captured on the “street” and fall well within the realm of fairly typical “street” photographs. The intention of each differs though, indicating different genres within street photography.

Graphic Abstraction

The urban environment is mined for strong, abstract or semi-abstract compositions. Siegfried Hansen’s work is a great example.



Interesting coincidences drive this genre of street photography. Here, the rarity of the subject, the event, or juxtaposition often drives the image. The work of Nils Jorgensen, Jonathan Higbee, and Matt Stuart come to mind.


Built Environment

Imagery that shows the context or symptoms of the human experience, without incorporating humans directly. Some of the work of Joel Meyerowitz and William Eggleston is representative and exemplary.


Street Portraiture

The name’s a bit self-explanatory here. One might distinguish between types of portraiture, however, depending on whether the portrait was taken with permission or spontaneously. See Bruce Gilden, Eugene Smith, Nan Goldin, or Rineke Dijkstra.


The Human Experience

Moments or situations that convey deeper, broader truths about the human experience. See, for example: Robert Frank, Fan Ho, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Leon Levinstein, and — intentionally pushing the bounds of what might be considered street photography a bit — Chris Hondros.


Note that the different genres of street photography emphasize different aspects of what goes into making a good image. Recall that these basic building blocks include: technical skill, abstract composition, subject matter, the story, and the integration between each. Graphic Abstraction focuses primarily on the development of interesting compositions. Coincidences emphasize the subject, using a rare event or unusual juxtaposition to drive a strong photograph. Images of the Built Environment, Portraiture, or the Human Experience often seek to engage the viewer more deeply by suggesting a broader story or narrative. Examples of each genre are made stronger to the degree that they can push more than one of these buttons.

Brent DanielComment