Street photography is photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. The subject of the photograph might be absent of people and can be an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.
Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment. Much of what is now widely regarded, stylistically and subjectively, as definitive street photography was made in the era spanning the end of the 19th Century through to the late 1970s; a period which saw the emergence of portable cameras. The portable camera enabled candid photography in public places became an issue of discussion. Street photographers create fine art photography (including street portraits) by capturing people in public places, often with a focus on emotions displayed, thereby also recording people’s history from an emotional point of view. Social documentary photographers operate in public places documenting people and their behavior in public places for recording people’s history and other purposes.
Psychogeography is an approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and “drifting” around urban environments. It has links to the Situationist International. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Another definition is “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.”
In psychogeography, a dérive (French: [/de.ʁiv/], “drift”) is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. Situationist theorist Guy Debord defines the dérive as “a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” He also notes that “the term also designates a specific uninterrupted period of dériving.”
The concept of the dérive has its origins in the Letterist International of the 1940s, an artistic and political collective based in Paris, where it was a critical tool for understanding and developing the theory of psychogeography, defined as the “specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” The dérive, an unplanned tour through an urban landscape directed entirely by the feelings evoked in the individual by their surroundings, served as the primary means for mapping and investigating the psychogeography of these different areas.
The dérive continued to be a critical concept in the theories of the Situationist International, a radical group of avant-garde artists and political theorists that succeeded the Letterist International in the 1950s. For the situationists, the dérive was a technique for exploring an urban landscape’s psychogeography and engaging in new experiences. According to situationist theorist Guy Debord, in performing a dérive, the individual in question must first set aside all work and leisure activities, clearing their minds of all their usual motives for movement and action, then let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.
Dérives are necessary, according to situationist theory, because of the increasingly predictable and monotonous experience of everyday life in advanced capitalism. The dérive grants a rare instance of pure chance, an opportunity for an utterly new and authentic experience of the different atmospheres and feelings generated by the urban landscape. Debord observes in his Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography:
The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places — these phenomena all seem to be neglected. In any case they are never envisaged as depending on causes that can be uncovered by careful analysis and turned to account.
Flâneur, from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie refers to the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.
The flâneur was, first of all, a literary type from 19th century France, essential to any picture of the streets of Paris. The word carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. It was Walter Benjamin, drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who made this figure the object of scholarly interest in the 20th century, as an emblematic archetype of urban, modern experience. Following Benjamin, the flâneur has become an important symbol for scholars, artists and writers.