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Urban Photography and the Acceptance of Urban Culture


NEW YORK, NY.- Urban photography is terribly in vogue now, isn’t it? It’s funny how much of a shift this shows in our attitudes since the mid-20th Century when anything related to the street and street culture were seen as part of the lower, less civilised side of life. Now it’s all very different….

Take something as ordinary as street food for example. It used to be considered bad form to eat on the street, without cutlery, getting in a mess with an overflowing burrito or some freshly cooked falafel. Now it’s seen as cultivated and sophisticated. Our ideas of good manners have changed as our attitude to the street has changed.

Similarly, urban culture was dismissed as primitive. The early graffiti in New York, documented by such films as Style Wars, was perceived as vandalism and not at all a legitimate form of expression. Admiring the creativity of the form was not something that really went on, even in the art world, though it did find a more accepted mode in the work of Jean-Michelle Basquiat. The enormous popularity of Banksy was still a long way off.

In music, Hip Hop was not taken seriously as a genre either. In the 1980s and ‘90s the establishment perceived it as nothing more nor less than a challenge to civilised society and good wholesome values. One of Public Enemy’s perennial themes was this opposition between urban communities and the oppression that they faced. Now the pop charts are full of Hip Hop and its starkly realist or heavily stylised depictions of urban life and culture are de rigueur.

Photography then also reflects these changes. Amateur photographers all want a piece of the urban landscape and certain locations have taken on a new lease of life as a result of this development. In particular places such as Las Vegas offer great opportunities. The town is known as bright light city for a reason, and the night life really does make for some excellent images. The casinos are an amazing creation, slightly surreal at times perhaps but amazing nonetheless. The table games, roulette wheels and slots are not only aesthetically impressive but irresistible too- the brilliant online versions such as InterCasino make this abundantly clear and give a great sense of the atmosphere of their large scale forebears.

What can be said of the underlying attitudes manifested by this new appreciation of all things urban? Well, we’ve become less formal in our everyday lives and manners and more accepting of informal environments such as the street. We’ve grown into our urban way of life and forgotten the old town-country dichotomy. We’ve accepted industrial architecture, with Brutalism now revered and wind farms considered aesthetically pleasing. Will this all carry on, or will there be a reaction as often occurs in the history of art? Will we reach a point at which we tire of the grime and shabbiness of the street? Will we cease to appreciate the charm of pigeons, concrete and old chewing gum and once more find it all repellent? Well... perhaps….





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