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  • Writer's pictureIan Miller

Street & Documentary Photography

Documentary photography and street photography are two genres of photography that often overlap and share some similarities, but also have distinct differences and purposes. Documentary photography is a broad term that encompasses any photography that aims to capture reality and tell a story, often with a social or historical significance. Street photography is a more specific term that refers to candid photography of people and scenes in public places, usually in urban settings. Street photography can be considered a form of documentary photography, but not all documentary photography is street photography.

Some of the main differences between documentary and street photography are:


- Documentary photography usually has a clear intention or message, while street photography is more spontaneous and open to interpretation.

- Documentary photography often follows a narrative or a theme, while street photography is more random and eclectic.

- Documentary photography may require more planning, research, and access, while street photography relies more on intuition, luck, and opportunity.

- Documentary photography may involve more interaction with the subjects, while street photography is usually done without their consent or awareness.

- Documentary photography may have more ethical and legal implications, while street photography is generally more free and flexible.

However, these differences are not absolute, and there are many examples of photographers who blur the lines between documentary and street photography or combine elements of both.


Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the pioneers of both genres, used his camera as a tool to capture the decisive moment in both historical events and everyday life.


Robert Frank, another influential photographer, created a groundbreaking documentary project called The Americans, which also featured many candid shots of people and places across the US.


Vivian Maier, a mysterious nanny who took thousands of photos in her spare time, left behind a remarkable archive of both documentary and street photographs that reveal her keen eye for detail and human expression.


Ultimately, documentary and street photography are not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary ways of exploring and documenting the world through images. Both genres require skill, creativity, and passion from the photographer, and both can produce powerful and memorable photographs that challenge, inspire, or move the viewer.

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