“Street photography is the art of the instant,” goes the powerful the opening statement of “Fill the Frame,” a 2020 documentary film that explores the prevalence of street photography today.
Anyone taking photos out in the streets will see how it’s easy to get inundated with the myriad of things happening all at once. As such, the best street photos indeed show the art of the instant, of moments plucked from the frenetic energy of a dynamic city.
While set in New York City, Honolulu-based Director Tim Huynh made sure that the film will serve as a collection of stories that will inspire street photographers wherever in the world they may be. For this, he brought together a diverse roster of contemporary street photographers: Paul Kessel, Jonathan Higbee, Dimitri Mellos, Mathias Wasik, Melissa O’Shaughnessy, Melissa Breyer, Julia Gillard and Lauren Welles. Each of them share the reasons why and how they got into the craft as their impressive snaps flash throughout the film.
Huynh’s interest in street photography began while interning at a small production studio in Chicago in 2010. One of his fellow interns introduced him to Vivian Maier. The inspiration sparked his interest in capturing the raw stories in the city. This, in turn became the foundation of his goals for the documentary film.
“In 2010, I was in Chicago interning at a small production studio and one of the fellow interns was telling me about Vivian Maier. He showed me her website and told me the whole back story on how his friend John Maloof bought these negatives from an auction and started scanning them and uploading the images on the internet.
“Her images had inspired me, it was so raw and full of life. I thought to myself, if I’m in Chicago where many of these images were produced, I can do that too. I started walking around Rogers Park and Michigan Avenue just snapping away.”
– Tim Huynh
“Fill the Frame” follows the footsteps of “Everybody Street” to fill the gap that the famed 2013 documentary film left. After years of brainstorming and ruminating, Huynh decided to set his own full-length documentary in New York City. Not surprising, since the Big Apple has long been a playground of iconic street photographers.
There is no singular way to do street photography. This fact is one of the many things that make the genre both interesting but also puzzling for some. The film emphasizes this not only in the work of contemporary street photographers. It also highlights the legends whose distinct styles laid the groundwork of the craft. If you’ve been doing street photography for some time, you’ll most likely find your favorite street photographer’s work featured here. Otherwise, the film provides a great balance of old and new styles for more ideas on approaching the genre.
Apart from the inspiring stories and anecdotes, the documentary also touches on the challenges that street photography faces today. I think it’s just as important for every street photographer, fledgling or otherwise, to be aware of these issues.
For example, people have become more weary of being photographed in out in the streets. This often results in increased suspicion against the photographer in the public space. Then, there’s hyper-exposure to the sheer quantity of images made and posted online everyday. This has sensitized society to any genuinely outstanding photo. As author and curator Colin Westerbeck aptly said, it’s the “onslaught of imagery that contemporary media creates.” These realities have made it extra difficult for today’s photographers to create significant photos.
Overall, I love how the “Fill the Frame” serves as a well-rounded introduction or even re-introduction to the craft. It’s not unheard of for even the most passionate street photographer to lose focus or drive once in a while. Likewise, it can be a little puzzling for beginners to grasp exactly what makes a street photo noteworthy or significant. Still, the film reminds us of how daily life’s simple but dynamic moments can be immortalized through the “art of the instant.”
Photos by Melissa Breyer
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Photos courtesy of Tim Huynh