by Melissa Howe
The Still and Moving Street was an exhibition of work comprising ‘The Crossing’ and ‘Gestural Street Portraits,’ first presented together in 2020.
‘The Crossing’ features a series of unstaged photographic portraits taken of anonymous individuals using a pedestrian crossing in an inner city suburb in Sydney. Over a six-month period of time, I observed and documented the activity occurring at the site from my apartment window, between sunset and 7pm.
From the documented photographs the moving image work ‘Gestural Street Portraits,’ was created, featuring a two-screen video installation of animated portrait sequences presented in slow motion.
This research aimed to expand ideas associated with the tradition of street photography, focused on recording incidents of everyday life without the photographer’s presence interfering with the images being made. The practice I engaged in replaced the speed and spontaneity associated with the genre with a more sedate and systematic approach, involving the use of constraints to guide the production of the work.
The exhibited outcome explores notions of individuality and aspects of contemporary society through the still and moving image. In the portraits of the anonymous individuals, moments of introspection and quietude are able to be found.
Background Street photography is often considered as a genre underpinned by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s conception of the ‘decisive moment.’ Such traditional forms of practice are characterised by speed and spontaneity, involving the photographer moving through the city streets in search of moments of significance. There are, however, alternative strategies employed by practitioners entailing a more sedate
and systematic approach. The discussion of such practices, deviating from the dominant discourse, has been mostly absent from existing scholarship on the genre.
Contribution Research for The Still and Moving Street was centred on the investigation of unconventional forms of street photography, which I term as practices of concept driven street photography. These approaches see the employment of parameter-based systems to create photographic based work within the urban context. Affinities with these alternative methodologies can be found in sociological led investigations into the everyday, as well as in conceptual art projects emerging in the 1960s. In recent decades the genre of street photography has expanded to incorporate the moving image, signalling a shift away from the still image it has been tethered to since its beginnings. The Still and Moving Street presents an alternative form of street photography, comprised of both still and moving images, with specific focus on the anonymous portrait image. This research contributes to the discourse by presenting a new form of contemporary portraiture and representation of the street.
Significance Through this research, I was awarded my PhD in 2021. The Still and Moving Street is significant in presenting a rethinking of the genre of street photography. It was selected to be a part of Impermanence at Delmar Gallery, Sydney in February 2021, curated by Catherine Benz, and In and Out of Darkness, at Sydenham International, Sydney in October 2022, curated by Consuelo Cavaniglia and Brendan Van Hek.
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Melissa Howe is an Australian interdisciplinary artist and academic, whose practice is centred on using photography to create still and moving image work investigating the everyday, memory, place and time. Her work has been exhibited in various galleries in Australia and has been featured in local and international print publications. Since 2011 she has taught analogue and digital photographic processes, history and theory, with a focus on the printed image. She is a lecturer In Photography and Media Arts at The Australian National University’s School of Art and Design.
Main image: Melissa Howe, Gestural Street Portraits #1 – #13, 2016. Two screen video installation on LCD monitors, 41 x 34 cm each, 5.29 minutes. Photo Credit: Document Photography