This question that Faizal Westcott is one of the first issues I encountered when I was new to street photography. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why many street photographers prefer to have people in their photos. It feels more dynamic and opens up a variety of visual narratives. On the other, I also understood the case for the absence of people in street snaps.
Eventually, I leaned towards the same conclusion as Westcott in his video above. Yes, it’s still street photography even if there’s not a single person in the composition. Some would argue that it’s in the rules to have people in the shot. Along the same line, some would say that the most iconic street photos incorporate the so-called “Decisive Moment,” which is only possible when you have people in your shots.
However, as he also noted, while rules are great for learning the fundamentals, there’s also a lot that we can explore by “breaking” these rules. Sure, street photography is all about documenting the human presence. But it’s also possible to achieve this by capturing the impact of humans in a space. I think Westcott did great in citing the works of Fred Herzog to make his case.
So, do you agree with the points and examples mentioned in this video? Which approach to street photography do you prefer? Share your insights with us in the comments below, or in our group discussions if you’re already part of the Photofocus Community!