6 People Who Pioneered Urban lifestyle Photography
Urban lifestyle photography has become one of the most famous photography styles. With most people having cameras and more people in cities to use them, we’re capturing life as it happens. Not all of it is good, but when it’s great its some of the most exciting art out there. Urban lifestyle photography didn’t grow out of nowhere though. It has a surprisingly long history of people who worked to get it to where it is today. Here are 6 of the best historical and current pioneers of the style.
Sanjeev Kugan is famous for his visual storytelling, graphic designing, and photography. Raised in Scarborough, he is now based in Toronto, Canada. He’s helmed campaigns with different groups and publications, building a career from his use of arresting backgrounds in an urban scape. We’ve seen New York from a million angles and every city can start to look the same but Kugan finds something new every time he picks up a camera. Kugan is as comfortable snapping streetwear as he is with conceptual pieces and seems at home in both worlds. He hasn’t been on the scene as long as many others but he’s made an impact. The scene of urban photography and its future is being created by names like Kugan.
Amsterdam based Sash Alexander is probably the best contemporary historian for his city. His images capture the world around him in a way that seems to contain all its movement and reality. People going about their day, the small moments that may be missed but all of them important. On its own this would be impressive enough but in the hands of someone with his eye and technical ability, it becomes much more.
It’s easy to think of urban photography as just covering the culture in the city and its people but there’s much more than that. William Watt captures the physical city, its buildings and places. Instead of a focus on people, the only time a person is a part of his work is when he juxtaposes them against the city he is focusing on. The opposite end of the spectrum from people like Martha Cooper, Watt’s work is a mesh of high art and the city. His work has featured in Houses Magazine, Artichoke, Arch Daily, Architecture AU among others so it’s clear what his art means and who it means it to.
Even if you’ve never heard her name, Martha Cooper is arguably the biggest name in urban photography. Spending her time in New York during the birth of hip hop and the graffiti wars, she was granted access that no other photographers had. Until she came along graffiti was limited to its audience in its area. When Cooper began her work it made people pay attention. Not just to the art itself but to the people behind it. Putting a face on people like Dondi created a huge audience of people who followed their exploits looking at them as almost mythical names.
This one is a throwback but with good reason. Half historian, half photographer, Abbot’s accounts of New York as early as the 30s have been a huge influence on everyone who came after her. She documented parts of life nobody else was documenting and her impact on the history of New York being recorded can’t be understated. Even if you don’t care about the history as much, you should still pay attention to her work. She moved through all areas of the city, photographing unemployment camps during The Great Depression as well as the artists she knew and getting some of the most memorable photographs of places like Grand Central Station before anyone else did.
When Die Antwoord burst onto the international scene, their style was one of the weirdest things we’d seen in music in years. Hellish insanity right next to seemingly naive innocence. This style was all Ballen. While he didn’t make the group he did provide huge influence on their work. The only photographer to work in South Africa’s ‘Outlands’, his work records something that seems like another world. People who live without basic resources in a world totally on its own. The style of the world is something that Ballen quickly became aware of. His work along with the work of Die Antwoord brought light to something nobody else had ever done. Coming from a background as a more traditional photographer, his involvement with the people and places in the Outlands made it clear how little rules there truly were on what urban photography could be.