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The Art of Street Photography

Street photography or candid photography as it is also know is as close as most of us will ever get to Photo Journalism. Its about capturing an image that tells a story about a place, people or a situation, and it does it spontaneously. Street photography  often takes you out of your comfort zone which makes it adventurous and exciting.

What we hope to achieve by this Blog is to share the experiences of some amateur street photographers and to expose their work. By doing so we will also take you to places you might never see or experience. That is the art of Street Photography. We will also provide you with links to more detailed incites into the art by recognised experts.

Wikipedia defines street photography as “photography conducted for art or inquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents.”

Typically, street photography is about candidly capturing life in public areas. And contrary to its name, street photography does not have to be done on the streets. You can do street photography anywhere.

Photography Life has published a most informative introduction to Street Photography.  Elizabeth’s  “Complete Guide to Street Photography for Beginners“. It is more than a useful aid for those wanting to embark on this very rewarding art form.

This article would not be complete without sharing the experiences of some of the Photographers who have embraced Street Photography as a hobby. The work of Jan Van Heerden is a great example of how a hobbyist can reveal the naked soul of a City. Jan was born and bred in Johannesburg South Africa. We asked Jan to give us a run down of his modus operandi. Here is what he said;

“I started photography in 2014 with the intention of compiling a history of the informal traders in Johannesburg’s townships. At that stage my job took me to 45 townships which presented me with an ideal opportunity to record the informal traders. I subsequently left the job and I never got my project off the ground.

One day while driving through the Johannesburg CBD a whole world opened up. I realised there was a glut of photographic opportunities. With my Canon 7D and a 18-135mm kit lens I embarked on a new adventure.

I usually go out early on a Sunday morning. The streets are quite with almost no traffic. I try to be unobtrusive as possible. I carry my camera in a plastic shopping bag. I don’t wear bright coloured clothing.

The only time I will ask permission to take a photo is if my subject objects to me taking their picture. I want the image to be as spontaneous and as telling as possible. If they object I normally show them the image and offer to e-mail it to them. I have never had anyone decline my offer.

I have taken pictures of cable thieves, gangs, assaults, drug addicts shooting something into their veins.

Whenever I feel uncomfortable I will walk away. Some places are a bit scary and provoking confrontation is not an option. I go solo and therefore avoid trouble as far as possible. My advice is not to attract too much attention, don’t use telephoto lenses, if confronted apologise and walk away. I always keep my car within short  distances from where I am.

Take it easy if you do go out into the street, first explore areas familiar to you. Not many sites are as formidable as the Johannesburg CBD”.

Johannesburg was at one time one of the richest cities in the world producing almost a third of the worlds gold. The city center was the hub of a bustling financial phenomena. It exploded into existence at the end of the nineteenth century and within twenty years became a monument to to the riches of the soil. Some of the worlds richest men built their castles with the help of great architects like Sir Herbert Baker. The City Center reflected that opulence, but when the restrictions of apartheid were lifted there was a massive influx of impoverished refugees from all over Africa and rural South Africa, that slowly eroded the opulence. Jan’s work captures the new soul of Johannesburg’s inner city with its new character, decay, charm and sometimes ironic beauty.

Here are some of his images with his own captions;

These men eke out a meager existence by scavenging household discarded waste. Here they are busy sorting the waste into plastic, paper and cardboard. This was taken at an empty residential property that was demolished to make space for a development.

I was attending  a wedding. It was a rainy day and I was cooped up in hotel room waiting for the service. I gazed through the window, contemplating the lack of photography for the day. When I saw this person in the street on his mobile phone. It presented an ideal photo opportunity.

This image was taken in Newtown in downtown Johannesburg.  I noticed this street cleaner approx. 200 meters away and waited for her to come within ‘shooting’ distance. Only when I viewed the photo on my computer, did I notice the man sitting behind her. His face is visible  behind her left shoulder.

Westdene Johannesburg.

The grime and neglect attracted me to this building. I took a few photos and this group of men entered my view. I kept on taking photos and once again when I viewed the images at home, I realised that this was potentially a bad move on my part.

I titled this photo ‘Cool and the Gang’ One is not always aware of ones surroundings when taking photos. It has happened on a number of occasions.

Services are glaringly scarce in places where the payment of property taxes are not popular. A The lack of garbage collection and a culture of littering is prevalent.

Like every major city the homeless are a reality.

Many of the grand old buildings have become canvases for some spectacular graffiti.


The recycle men are all over town. This was taken at the Museum Africa. The building was erected in 1913 and was the first fresh produce market in Johannesburg. It was the largest building in South Africa on completion.

Today the building houses Museum Africa and The Market Theater.

This entire area is a classic example of urban decay.

Informal workers eke out a living collecting recyclable waste and transporting it on their trolleys sometimes over great distances, to depots where they get paid by weight for paper and plastics.

Fox St. Johannesburg CBD

This facade attracted me. It is adjacent to the Standard Bank Commissioner Street.  Built in 1908, there was an influx of people in search of their fortunes, after the discovery of gold.

Fordsburg Johannesburg.

This man is the king pin at this recycling site. All collectors have to pay him and ‘entrance’ fee before they can sell their recyclable material at the collection site.

Constitutional Hill at The Fort in Hillbrow.

11 Kotze Street  Hillbrow was built betwwen 1896 to 1899 for the purpose of holding British soldiers captured  during the Anglo-Boer War. After the war it was converted into a regular prison.

I saw the old lady sitting on the bench having lunch.

A waste collector on his way to the depot.


Johannesburg city has become one of the biggest exhibitions for talented graffiti artists anywhere in the world.


Traditional medicines or “Muti” as it is known is big business in the informal sector. Operating from a sidewalk this trader offers cures for every known affliction.

Newtown Johannesburg.

I am not sure what happens in this building. I photograph graffiti and this building drew my attention. It could be a music club, but I saw people going into the building in the morning and no music to be heard. When I saw the two pedestrians walking past looking into the doorway I took the photo. Often it is just luck that gets the timing right.

Fietas Johannesburg

It is an old suburb and has fascinating old buildings.

Fietas is the unofficial name given to this suburb, it’s official name is Pageview. It is one of Johannesburg suburbs steeped in unfortunate history.

During the apartheid era the inhabitants, mainly Indian traders were removed by force from their homes.The suburb was renowned for it’s traders and the white people flocked to 14th street for bargains. The traders were relocated to the Oriental Plaza. The shopping and atmosphere has never been the same.

One of the fascinating old buildings in Fietas. There are buildings dating back to late 1800’s.


Another historical building in Fietas. It is a fascinating area to visit.

Diagonal Street opposite the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange

Carmel Building constructed in 1897 is one of Johannesburg Heritage sites.

The man leaning out of the window was an opportunity not to be missed.

Braamfontein Kotze Street, Johannesburg

There was a Graffiti painting festival in Braamfontien. I am fascinated by graffiti, maybe a morbid fascination so I decided to visit the area. I came across these two young ladies taking photos of each other. It was an ideal opportunity for me to take a photo.

Ferreirasdorp Johannesburg.

I came across this magnificent work of art with the assistance of a stall trader at no 1 Fox street. 50 meters from this site.

The photographers in the scene give one a perspective of the scale of this Graffiti

Ferreirasdorp Johannesburg

My unofficial guide asked me to take his photo in front of this giant mural of the Lion and human face. This entire area was previously known as Chinatown, famous for its Chinese Restaurants.  After the decay set in they left.


The supporting pillars of the M1 Highway formed these lovely leading lines.. I waited for the person with the red jacket to enter the scene. One can see his red jacket reflection in a weather puddle in the road.



This red building is an Iconic sight in Newtown. This building used to be the cold storage facility when the fresh produce market was still trading across the road.

This man was praying arms in the air and it presented a fantastic image. One has to be ready for these fleeting moments.

Johannesburg Commissioner Street.

I find this old decaying building fascinating. It is situated across the road from the Johannesburg Central police Station.

I have not been able to get any information on this building which  is still occupied.

Jeppe Street Post Office  Johannesburg.

The Post Office was filled with amazing Art Deco and Frescoes. There is an underground tunnel from the post office to Park Railway Station. It had a conveyor belt system to move the post to the railway station. Johannesburg has a network of underground tunnels, one of them was from The Fort to the High Court (behind the post office) to transport prisoners to the court. Many of these tunnels have been bricked up. The tunnels are infested with Rinkhals snakes who feed on an abundance of rodents.


This is a typical street scene of Johannesburg facing west from The Standard Bank.

Standard Bank Commissioner Street

The Standard Bank Building was opened in it’s current  form during September 1890. Prior to that the bank operated from a tent.

The opening of the bank in 1886 coincided with the gold rush in Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand.


The main entrance to The Fort. Situated in Hillbrow Johannesburg.

The South African Constitutional Court is built behind The Fort in Kotze street.

The Fort has significant historical value. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi were both imprisoned here. Nelson Mandela was held in the hospital section of the prison.  These are only two of the numerous prisoners, that played a important role in our history.

The Fort was built to house British  POW during the 2nd Anglo-Boer war. After the war it was used as Johannesburg Prison.

The Three Castle building in Marshall street Johannesburg, was opened by Paul Kruger in 1989 almost the same time as The Fort.

The architects were Carter and MacIntosh.

The 3 turrets on the building represent ‘The Three Castles’ cigarettes. The building was bought out by United Tobacco company. In later years the building housed many nightclubs, one well know club was The Dungeon.

The once grand entrance to The Castle.


We thank Jan Van Heerden for his wonderful contribution. In coming Blogs we hope to feature more revealing through the lens incites into other parts of the world.

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