Street photography is many things to many people, and many of those people get pretty caught up in a tight definition of street photography. The internet loves to point out what is and what is not a street photo. Me, I have a pretty loose definition of the art, so going forward with this post, you should keep that in mind.
To me street photography does not always involve a literal street, and more often than not blends very much into photo journalism. On the one hand, street photography is a lot like photo journalism in that you are aiming to document a certain time, place, person, or group of people in their natural environment. I may take a photo of a woman with braided hair and I am trying to document how these people look and their sense of fashion. Or I may photograph a man dancing in the streets and I am aiming to say, "Look, this is what they do on the weekends." If I take a photo of a landscape or cityscape, I am documenting what this place looks like in this specific moment. Our world is always changing, who knows what will look the same when our grand kids see it? So in that sense street photography is a lot like photo journalism.
But street photography differs in many respects, partly in that street photography is much more flexible in its portrayal of scenes. In street photography I can make something look much more lively than what it really is, or much more boring. I can show any place or any person in whatever light I want, good or bad. Photo journalists cannot do that. A photo taken must accurately portray whatever is happening in front of the lens with no input or bias from the photographer themselves.
That is how street photography differs the most. Input. In photo journalism there are no choices to be made in terms of how something is portrayed. If a person is committing an atrocity, that must be captured and portrayed. If someone you do not agree with is feeding the homeless, that is what you must capture. But with street photography, whether you are capturing images that deep or not, you have input into how the image will ultimately look in the end from what you choose to photograph (or not photograph), to what the colors will look like once edited.
To put it another way, think of street photography as a backwards selfy. In a selfie (selfy? How the hell so you spell that?) you turn the camera on yourself and try to document where you are and what you are seeing by capturing it in the background. What I do is not so different from a selfy. My goal is the same. I want to show people what I am seeing when I am seeing it, the only difference is that I don't necessarily need myself in the photo. Both photos say the same thing, but one has more interesting subject matter. You be the judge of which!
Before, in a past blog post, I mentioned that street photography is not considered art. Basically I think that argument boils down to the fact that there is no input from the photographer and therefor cannot be art. But I do not think that is correct because at its very core, street photography requires input from the photographer. Street photography is very personal, and yet not about oneself, all at the same time. It is personal in that you are there, in the moment, capturing something that will only happen once in a lifetime. Yes, that carnival may happen every year, but you are there seeing it as it is at that precise moment in time. Two minutes later, things change, that is the way with the world.
It is not personal in that you are not in the frame at all, others are. Or no one is. Often it is not your street you are photographing, not your city, or even your country, it is someone else's. It is personal and it is not, street photography, and it is therefore art in my opinion.