Watching the Detectives


New York is a mecca for street photographers. Every corner opens up new possibilities and the neighbourhoods have their own characteristics. SoHo for the iconic architecture and high-end labels, the East Village for the remnants of edginess, the Lower East Side for the tragically hip, Midtown for the suits, Grand Central Station for the soaring architecture and sheer bustle of people, and Queens for the city’s multi-ethnic flavour.

Like a digital detective, the aspiring street photographer loves the thrill of the hunt — looking for a good shot and knowing that if you are lucky, one shot in 100 will be good enough. Then there are the professionals like Louis Mendes, photographed here near Union Square, an iconic New York street photographer, who has his own haunts. Given the number of photographers on the city streets, photographing the photographers is an insight into how others see us, the “camera-toting classes”.

The shift in the “camera-toting classes” is remarkable; returning to the city after smart phone cameras came into their own and photo sharing social media platforms such as Instagram launched (a space of only three years!) we’ve been amazed by the transformation of instantaneous image-making and distribution that has inspired so many to click away, particularly on the street.

The constraints of time lag (in-camera editing), file size (no need to edit or compress the image using software), and volume (practically unlimited digital!) have been gone for some time. It is the social aspect, the sharing, that has given us a whole new genre: the immediate. “Here I am right now” “here’s what I’m eating/doing” and “here’s what I just saw” photos flood social media sites and are rewarded by likes, and clicks and further sharing.

However, it wasn’t until we started using social media that the allure (quasi-addiction) of  sharing became so apparent. Having strangers around the world visit, like and re-share our work and images is exhilarating. Those first heady “likes” are akin to 15 megapixels of fame. This reward, this little adrenaline rush explains the brazen photo-taking we’ve noticed on our return: in the streets, in restaurants, in situations would have seemed too private just five years ago.

This is the best documented  and distributed era so far; good luck to the future archivists and historians sifting through this new wave of digital “detectives.” What stories will the images tell and what will they say about us? In the meantime, here’s a gallery of us snapping photos of others doing what we love—snapping photos. And sharing them.