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  • Finn Calander

Street and/or Documentary Photography

The Rules

In my view, the street photography genre is a close neighbour to classic documentary photography. The main difference being that "street" has a stronger focus on evereyday life, whilst documentary photography often focusses on a special topic, not necessarily related to the everyday. But, the borders are fuzzy, to say the least. Street as well as documentary photography has two core "rules" in common, viz. no staging and no image manipulation. The first "rule", of course, sometimes may be broken depending on what theme the photographer is working on and what story s/he want's to tell (cf. Sune Jonsson, Bruce Gilden). The second one, however, may never be broken. If you aspire to be a street/documentary photographer you may never ever manipulate a photograph. Period!

Image Manipulation vs Image Editing

Editing an image – be it shot on film or on a sensor – means that the photographer processes the original negative/sensordata to produce a printed photograph on paper/screen. This processing mainly involves the three traditional darkroom techniques of dodging/burning, contrast adjustment, and cropping. This, in my opinion, is not image manipulation, its aim is to "manipulate" the viewer's feelings when encountering the image contents. No original data (inside the frame after eventual cropping) has been added or deleted. Image manipulation, on the contrary, means just that (cf. image manipulation in the Soviet Union). So, in this digital age the street/ducumentary photographer may well use software like Photoshop, but may not use tools that replace or add pixels to the edited picture.*


Today I shot some photographs at Toft's Watchmaking shop and workshop. Mr. Toft is repairing a clock of mine, and I went for a visit to find out how things were going. It is a fascinating place, and the skills that Toft the Watchmaker possesses are positively impressive. All images were shot on a Panasonic Lumix LX3, high quality jpeg, black and white film mode. Original (camera edited sensor data) were imported to Photoshop and edited in the plug-in Silver Efex Pro, using the Kodak T-max film emulator plus the Full Spectrum filter. One image was slightly cropped, all the others as framed in-camera.


Whatever our opinions on what photographic practices constitute image manipulation may be, we all can agree on one thing – the borderlines are not easily drawn. Personally, my opinion is like what I have written above, and I therefore claim that the example photographs have not been manipulated in any way. Edited, yes, manipulated, no.

* Interpolation of pixels may be ok.

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