Street photography is my greatest passion. I enjoy both, consuming it (on the web, books, exhibitions, etc.) and crafting it as well. Thanks to the small amount of control we have on the streets, the available color combinations we usually find are not necessarily the most appealing to the eye, and are definitely not useful for conveying a message in an efficient way. Black and white photography has always have had a very high efficiency ratio when it comes to the "transmission of a message with minimal levels of distraction".
Here I want to talk about color photography in the streets, one of the most complex tasks to do right if you ask me. The best way to talk about this way of making images is not through advices or theories, because honestly, I'm way too far of having the slight amount of expertise in this field. Therefore I'll rather share with you my favorite four street photographers that are known for their color work. The following photographers have worked in both formats, but they are widely recognized for their contributions to color photography, especially color street photography.
Helen Levitt was an American photographer, she's considered to be one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. Inside her work there's a visual consistency in both mediums, black and white and color. Her images are a visual dance from a foreign New York City we don't usually see. Thankfully she left us with a beautiful legacy.
She didn't finish high school and started working in the photography world since very young in the Bronx. She was a student of Walker Evans and Cartier-Bresson (just imagine those heavy weights), and became one of the greats too. Watching the photographs of Helen Levitt is an intoxicating, hallucinatory, sweet and inebriating experience without a doubt. I had always heard of the wonderful nature of the Kodachrome 64 film, but I had never consistently appreciated it as when I bought this book. Printed photographs are always better looking the screened ones. You can see more of her amazing work here.
Saul Leiter was an American photographer and painter whose work made an important contribution not just to photography, but to a movement that became recognized as what we know now as the "New York school of photography". His style is rich of poetic moments and non-isolated details. Storytelling details, those are the greatest wonders I have found in Leiter's photography. He is a very strange artist indeed, and his vision is so consistent and refined, that although his lens was keen to focusing on such specific details of the streets, they maintained an impressive level of narrative. Among my list of films to watch is the documentary that was released a year before his death, in which he shares his wisdom in the purest form. During his career as a photographer he worked for magazines like Esquire, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. This experience gave him a very refined style that he later transmitted in his photographs of the streets, the style for which he's nowadays known. You can see more of Leiter’s work here.
William Eggleston is an American photographer, widely credited for increasing the recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic format that could be displayed in art galleries and museums. He is not quite defined to be as a Street Photography by the photography’s canon. Instead he has been known for being able to exalt the nature of "vernacular photography" to something meaningful and deep. This genre is not so odd nowadays, but when he started to work on it, it was quite a milestone.
My favorite photograph of Eggleston is perhaps his most popular one. The image offers a particular color achieved on purpose by cranking up what Kodak stated in their recipes for developing the film. The absence of any subject is balanced with the personification of the tricycle, which has been seasoned with the low-angle point of view. If you're interested in a deep study of the "everyday", and you want to make it an important component of your photography, then I recommend you to contemplate the work of William Eggleston, who has been considered to be one of the greatest contemporary photographers in the world. You can see more of his work here and here.
Joel Meyerowitz is a prolific photographer without a doubt. He has explored with high success the fields of portraiture, landscape, and of course, street photography. He was innovative for embracing the color technology that was available from a very early age (he was only 24 years old) when color photography was far from being accepted in the world of modern and contemporary art. His work is risky, and very interesting. His work is in the collections of the International Center of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, and New York Public Library, all in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and also available online here.
So, wrapping it up, the work of these photographers has huge levels of aesthetic, and I hope they'll inspire all those photographers who wish to experiment with color in the hectic environments of the streets. Honestly, I have published perhaps 3% of the grand total photographs in color, and 97% in black and white. But recently, after seeing the work of Helen Levitt, which is street photography, with humor, and color, I have gained a strong interest into capturing color in a way that I've not previously achieved. I hope the Classic Chrome color profile of my camera helps me to get a little closer to that wonderful aura that Levitt's images enjoy.
Photography has had a hard time making its way into the art world, mainly because of its reproductive nature. The first images accepted within the medium were all black and white, that is why all those photographers (not only street artists, but in general) that have opted for color photography to contribute to the modern and contemporary artistic movement, are true fighters.