One can argue that the rich tradition of street photography is mainly an outgrowth of modernism, best exemplified by the groundbreaking photojournalism of Cartier-Bresson in Europe and the unsentimental noir of Weegee in America. But that would discount the many images of the everyday recorded by photography's early pioneers, which established the medium's capacity for social realism and expressive reflections of urban life and architecture.
Thus, these European exemplars of street photography are alive to the medium's long history of cultural exploration and colorful depiction, and find their perfect forms in the energies and attitudes of the city. Indeed, the Paris of Brassai, Boubat and Doisneau––with its Les Halles flower sellers, Metro beggars, dancing girls, small boys carrying baguettes, or the prostitutes of Pigalle--is unmistakeably ingrained in these artfully crafted black-and-whites, just as the post-war liberations and Soviet gray of Eastern European cities seems encoded in the scampering children, hunched old women and rain-slicked streets captured by Stanko Abadzik, Jan Bartusek and others.
There's no question that the notion of street photography--bred largely from the decisive-moment approach typified by Cartier-Bresson, who is also represented here--is steeped in a black-and-white, documentarian aesthetic, and even 21st-century street photographs are prone to that classic style. Notable exceptions are the experimental color work of Vladimir Birgus, whose urban-dwellers (and tourists) are often glimpsed in some relation to the alienating mass of modern architecture that can render any city anonymous.
In the main, though, an atmosphere of cinematic noir dominates these photos, especially in the night shots of London, Paris or Rome--carefully composed renderings of young lovers, lonely souls, urchins or the fleeting motion of bicyclists in the mist and streetlamp glare. Such gifted photographers as Sabine Weiss, Bert Hardy and Jurgen Schadeberg round out this gallery of street seers, reminding us that the drama and surprise of this genre lie in the way it delivers an infinite variety of simple moments, illuminating life as it is lived in the archetypal corners of the Old World.