Right Here, Right Now: Photography Direct from Reality

A major U.K. exhibit shows street photography is alive and well

"I think that photography may be the most positive art form: every time you push the shutter you are saying, 'Yes!' "   - Joel Meyerowitz, FORMAT 2011


Where is the world capital of Street Photography? New York? London? Not this month: The finest of contemporary Street Photography is on display right now in the old market and industrial town of Derby, in England’s Midlands. Curated by Louise Clements, over 3,000 images from over 300 photographers are on show in Museums, art centers, and shop fronts throughout the city. FORMAT 2011 is a month-long series of exhibitions that kicked off last weekend with lectures, presentations, portfolio reviews and conferences, all of whom proved that Street Photography is not only alive and well, it is a growing and vibrant segment of the photographic universe.

The Quad Centre in the middle of Derby, England, headquarters and main venue for the FORMAT 2011 Festival "Right Here, Right Now: photogrpahs from the Public Realm." In the foreground is a display of the streetwork of seven Magnum photographers including Richard Kalvar, Alex Webb, and Chris Steele-Perkins among others.

Photographic masters of the genre Joel Meyerowitz and Bruce Gilden were brought to Derby; the former to exhibit and give an inspiring talk about his 50 years as a photographer, and the latter to make a portrait of the citizens of Derby in his own inimitable style with the resulting work, “Head On,” on display in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.


Joel Meyerowitz opens the Festival via Jumbotron in the Market Square of Derby, England

Richard Kalvar, Alex Webb, Chris Steele-Perkins and Brian Griffin were among the many other well-known figures in street and straight photography present to show their work and give talks as well.

In the middle of the Market Square is a major outdoor exhibition of 140 large photos by seven members of the prestigious Magnum group, including Richard Kalvar and Alex Webb, both of whom were in Derby for the festive opening weekend.


An installation view of the in-public.com exhibition at the Derby Museum & Art Gallery.

FORMAT also used the modern world of social media to open up the Festival to street shooters around the world with MOB Format. Images are sent to Format via Flickr and the best are selected and printed to appear in an ever-evolving exhibiton.

For me, one of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of the film “in-sight, in-public” by Nick Turpin (above, lecturing during the FORMAT conference), founder of the original Street Photographer’s’ collective, in-public.com. Commissioned by FORMAT , Nick interviewed 10 of the in-public photographers and filmed them shooting on the streets of London, New York, Melbourne and Rotterdam. The documentary shows the rewards as well as the under-appreciated difficulty of pursuing this peculiar art form, snatching something intriguing, beautiful, insightful out of the chaotic fabric of life. View the trailer here:

'in-sight' trailer from Nick Turpin on Vimeo.


In the off moments, the several hundred attendees looked at exhibitions, went to restaurants, downed more than a few pints of good British ale and did what they do best on those rare occasions when gathered together: talked. Talked about photographs - making them, troubles, difficulties, successes, themes, told stories true as well as a bit enhanced.


David Gibson walks by his pictures in the in-public.com exhibition at the Derby Museum.

Police Harassment: A Topic of Conversation

The off-agenda conversations were often as illuminating as the presentations. Nearly all the English photographers had stories of being stopped by police for taking pictures in public places, a perfectly legal activity in both Britain and in the United States. There was a general consensus that harassment of photographers in the UK and even in the USA really began with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, it having been partially blamed on the harassment of the paparazzi. (I personally know of photographers in Louisville, Kentucky, who were personally hassled while shooting soon after this sad event.)

After 9/11 it became even more difficult with police and especially private security guards suspecting anyone with any kind of camera of being a terrorist, especially in large cities. However most agreed that this has relaxed in the last few years and there is generally less difficulty working in the streets today.


Street Photographers Nils Jorgensen (left) and Mimi Mollica talk Strteet Photography in a quiet moment during the FORMAT conference.

Thus, in spite of the difficulties, Street Photography is alive, well, and even growing all over the world, and the incredible variety of work to be seen ar FORMAT 2011 is proof. continuing with this trend, the Museum of London is currently showing the major exhibition “London Street Photography: 1860-Present Day.” This exhibition has been the single most successful show in the history of the Museum, drawing over 10,000 people the first week.

Later this summer the London Street Photography Festival will kick off in July. Has New York City been eclipsed the capital of the Street? Certainly for the contemporary scene it has. Street Photography is alive and well in Britain, though, and on the Web. If only there were such a contemporary Street Photography Festival here in New York. One can dream, at least!

Richard Bram became a photographer in Louisville, KY, at the tender age of 32. After many years as a public relations and public event photographer, he began to concentrate on Street Photography, even more so after he relocated to London in 1997. There he was invited to join the premiere international Street Photographers' collective, in-public.com. He continues to make his images directly from unchanged reality in his new home in New York City.


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