Street Portraits – Research

I have seen various examples of street portraits and street photography during uni but I had never really examined a lot of them in much detail to know what makes a great street portrait. Having the confidence to approach people and then taking a photo with great lighting and composition takes a certain time of character, its like an art form.

When it comes to street portraits the first thing that comes to mind is Humans of New York, I love this project and the photographs that are used. It shows real people and captures their personalities, each picture tells a thousand words.

Humans of New York is a blog and bestselling book featuring street portraits and interviews collected on the streets of New York City. It started in 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, a 32 year old who grew up in Marietta, Georgia. In 2010, he bought a camera while working as a bond trader in Chicago and started taking photographs in downtown Chicago on the weekends. When he lost his job a short time later, he decided to pursue photography full-time. Moving to New York, he set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their portraits on a map of the city. Eventually, his photographs were shifted to the Humans of New York Facebook page, which he started in November 2010.He soon began adding captions and quotes to his photographs, which eventually evolved into full interviews.

“Somewhere along the way, I began to interview my subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, I’d include quotes and short stories from their lives.”

Stanton has collected portraits in nearly twenty different countries, Including Iran, Iraw and Pakistan, to capture the stories of the people living there. He has also travelled to parts of Europe to share the stories of refugees fleeing war in efforts to get his viewers and the world to engage in an emotional experience, hoping these stories would resonate with them more than reading statistics.

In December 2013, Stanton was named one of Time Magazine’s 30 Under 30 People Changing The World. Inspired by Humans of New York, hundreds of ‘Humans of’ blogs have developed around the world.


I love the style of these photographs, they’re really natural and keep the focus of the person intended. I like that they are all different angles, some are leaning, some standing to the side, some sat down. There are even profile shots of certain people, this could be because they are trying to convey their uniqueness.

I did some research on street portrait photographers and came across Jonathan Auch, an American photographer born in New York City in 1984. He studied painting at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California. Upon returning to New York City, and training as darkroom printer, Jonathan worked for 3 years as the exhibition printer and assistant for photojournalist James Nachtwey, where he was responsible for all print production used in exhibits, periodicals, galleries and museums. Jonathan also worked as the assistant to Bruce Gilden.

As a freelance photographer, Jonathan works both on the street and producing photo/video reportage on a variety of stories which focus on political, cultural and emotional isolation, alienation, loneliness, racism and discrimination.


His work is crisp and clear, primarily head shots of the people. They all have characterful faces, lots of detail that is exaggerated with the clarity of the photographs. He takes colour and black and white photographs, the colour is vibrant and quite harsh, the black and white softens the mood.

I like the uniformity of the head shot style, you’re not distracted by the background in any way. His work is certainly inspired by Bruce Gilden, whose photographs are of a similar style.

Bruce Gilden is a street photographer who was born in Brooklyn, New York. He is best known for his candid close-up photographs of people on the streets of New York City, using a flashgun.

While studying sociology at Penn State, Gilden saw Michelangelo Antonio’s film Blowup in 1968. Influenced by the film, he purchased his first camera and began taking night classes in photography at the School of Visual Arts of New York.


In June 1998 Gilden joined Magnum. He returned to his roots and tackled a new approach to urban spaces, specifically the streets of New York City, where he had been working since 1981.

Bruce Gilden’s mugshots are exactly that: the result of being mugged by his camera. He once described the way he photographs as “flash in one hand and jumping at people”.

It’s a very old-school New York style of photography: tough, confrontational, literally in-your-face and, after 40 years of doing it, he is a master of sorts. You love his photographs or you hate them. He probably doesn’t give a damn either way.
“My style evolved because I liked being among the common man,” he once said. “I like characters. I always have. When I was five, I liked the ugliest wrestler, so it was easy for me to pick what I wanted to photograph.”


His photographs are impressive though they are not the style I would take to, I wouldn’t use a flashgun to photograph people in the streets, especially up close and in their faces.

Street Portraits – Research

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