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The art of seeing #19: Are you a photographer or a kind of photographer?

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

Although I make a lot of my images while I’m out on the streets, I don’t see myself as a ‘street photographer’. I don’t see myself as a ‘travel photographer’ either, despite making much of my work on my travels. I love shooting in the landscape, but loathe the association that’s generally made if I define myself as a landscape photographer.

Why there seems to be a need amongst photographers to categorise photography is a mystery to me. When I did my degree in photography, many moons ago, I don’t recall the term ‘street photography’ even existing. I hate being asked what kind of photographer I am. I really don’t know how to give an answer that won’t pigeonhole me. I’ve yet to come up with a satisfactory reply. I just say I’m an art photographer, but this is just a get-out, and I only use it to signpost my general attitude to photography.

I recognise it’s a limp and meaningless response. I am still searching for a reply that resonates with the nuances of my photography. What is ‘art’ photography anyway? But that’s another conversation.

This photograph was taken in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, and it’s what got me thinking about photography genres, categories and classifications. It satisfies the characteristics of what’s come to be considered a classic ‘street’ photograph.

I felt that I had behaved as I thought a ‘street’ photographer would have, in that I saw an opportunity unfolding in front of me, and swiftly manoeuvred myself into position to capture it. I don’t often work like this, and I admit I found it very satisfying.

I’m happy with the image. I enjoy the fact that the main subject is perfectly central, the horizon is also perfectly central and the spacing between the shrubs and the main subject is nicely timed. Most importantly, the image can be ‘read’ in many ways, suggesting layers of meaning. Perhaps it could be a travel photograph, or even a landscape. Who knows – and who cares? BB

• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series

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