The encounter with the anonymous passer-by is one of the key motifs of street photography. The American photographer Walker Evans was preoccupied with trying to capture what he called a ‘cross section view of average people’. In 1946 he undertook a commission for Fortune magazine in which he photographed people on their way to work in downtown Detroit.
Contemporary photographers Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Joel Sternfeld are also committed to capturing everyday passers-by. Both work with a large format camera and tripod, though their photographs often resemble snapshots.Sternfeld drove through the United States between 1985 and 2000, assembling a series of portraits that he published in a book called Stranger Passing. DiCorcia takes striking close-ups but goes to extreme lengths to ensure his subjects are not aware of being photographed. Using a long lens and flashlight, he sets up a complex apparatus above the street and is able to illuminate and isolate passers-by. Ed van der Elsken’s tactics were more aggressively voyeuristic. He followed an anonymous woman around the streets of Hong Kong, creating a sequence of pictures that is reminiscent of a tracking shot from a movie. ‘I followed this babe around for a while. She knew I was doing it, and didn’t like it one bit’, he confessed.