Meaning in Street Photography?

My last post finished; 

“So, how do we avoid shooting more and more banal street photography? And how do we make images that are meaningful?”

Vice recently published an interview with the Magnum photographer Larry Towell (you can read the article here).  In the article he speaks about current photography’s, social media fuelled, self promotion (again I recognise the irony).  He contrasts this with his motivation to raise awareness of the circumstances of the global disempowered and dispossessed, in particular the stories that seldom make the news. 

Does similar motivation inform street photography?  Is street photography a vehicle for justice and empowerment? Does it provide awareness of and insight to the human condition? If so there are plenty of opportunities and situations to document on every street. 

Or does such motivation transition into photo-journalism? Is street photography characterised by being devoid of ’cause’ or philanthropy.  Is it simply observation without sympathy? I’ve read that sympathy is important in street photography but some images can appear antagonistic, intrusive or even unkind. 

Again it seems appropriate to end with questions.  Who is street photography about?  Is it about documenting or perhaps questioning the experiences of our fellow human beings?  Or is it about celebrating the street photographer’s perspective. Or is street photography by definition focussed on the banal, leaving meaning and critique to other genres?  

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