Whenever urban areas are the subject of photography, art or just discussion, it is normally the depressing side of city life that gets highlighted: the plight of the poor, the grind of 9-to-5 work, crumbling buildings and sterile industrial areas.
Street World (2007) portrays cities as hotbeds of human creativity in the form of street culture. The book was published nearly a decade ago, so while it might not be “on trend”, the spirit of what it is saying is still valid. After all, many aspects of street culture like skateboarding, tattooing and rock music, had their origins in movements that began around a century ago.
The book itself examines street culture through various lenses: fashion, transport, graffiti, activism, festivals and parties. There are smaller sections on things like Urban Exploration, shop fronts, taco trucks, ‘zines, and concert posters among many other things.
These topics are spread around locations from five different continents to highlight the universality of street culture, rather than focusing on American or European cities. Biker gangs in Russian and Japan, Calcutta street murals and Brazilian Baile Funk parties all get a look in.
The photography featured in the book is a mixture of amateur and professional photography. The contributors come from a mixture of backgrounds, not all of whom are professional photographers.
Among the street portraits, cityscapes and architectural photography are pages of snapshot photography. Some may find this a turn-off, but personally I think this adds personality to the book, creating a tapestry of city life that mingles well with some of the more professional quality pictures.
Some particular highlights for me in this book are the cityscapes dotted around the book as double page spreads. There are the street portraits of the citizens of New York and Los Angeles in the ‘Looking Good’ section. Also, the pictures of Low Riders in ‘Getting Around’.
It is refreshing to read a photography book that does not portray city life as a Dickensian nightmare. While it is light on text, the photography itself makes up for that by displaying so many interesting subjects that you get the gist of it. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in street culture and city life from a global perspective.