Allday Director Cheryl Dunn recently released her documentary about street photography, “Everybody Street,” on Netflix. As she puts it, “Street Photography is a democratic medium. It’s not about what you look like or who you know. Art is not democratic, but street photography is.” Producer Roman Grandinetti of CNNCTD quickly realized that Cheryl opened Pandora’s box: street photography in New York is a whole world whose spectrum is almost infinite. Roman went on to produce “Everybody Street TV,” hosted by Cheryl. The series shot at Cheryl’s studio, and broadcasted on everybodystreet.com, has welcomed Daniel Arnold, Brock Fetch, and Jessica Lehrman so far. Read the conversation below, as we discuss their passion for the streets and photography.
Cheryl: Roman, what was the initial seed of why you wanted to do something like this?
Roman: The idea was to complement “Everybody Street,” in the form of what was happening today with photographers overall. I think what Cheryl did to showcase and educate us on what and how it should be done was the inspiration. We both wanted to see how that translated to the next generation and how they felt about it and communicated with it.
Cheryl: I didn’t make my movie [“Everybody Street”] about equipment or about f-stops, it’s ultimately about people. When I was making “Everybody Street” there were some comments about, “what about the younger generation?” For one, film is finite and I have 90 minutes to work with. I had the privilege to speak to a generation of photographers that had careers spanning 60, 70 years. Those artists I have less time to talk to and get to know about than I do someone that’s in their ‘20s. I made the conscious decision to make it more about that generation with these lengthy careers. When Roman approached me about kind of doing this extension so to speak in a different format and speaking to a younger generation, I was really into it because it’s something that is very interesting to me that I couldn’t include in my film.
Roman: I think the next generation, or my generation—using Instagram or a cell phone—made photos less valuable in the sense of the treasury of it. It’s instant gratification. It’s 50 photos now in a day instead of that one crystal clear moment or whatever it was. That was another direction and I think how people get their light shined on for creating that work and finding an outlet for that work is completely different. Technically you’re a photographer if you have a phone. The leap has changed so much. Does that necessarily discredit your work? You can take an amazing photo with anything now, I think. It was interesting learning what’s happening.
Cheryl: And that’s the discovery—even the three young people that we interviewed thus far were completely different from each other in their approach, how they use their equipment or don't use their equipment.
Roman: Street photography is a medium that is not about having an agenda. It’s about going to the street and letting things unfold before you. Moving with that flow and that’s exactly what we did here, in my opinion. No agenda. Let’s just see what happens.
Cheryl: Yes, street photography is about human interaction. I stand on that street and I happen upon you, what happens between me, you, the light, my camera, the sidewalk is just completely unique to these variables. Just like me sitting down there having a conversation with one of those photographers is going to be completely different than anyone else in this room having that conversation. That’s also what being a documentarian is. It’s an energy thing. I really liked that. It was a no agenda experiment.
“Street photography is a medium that is not about having an agenda.”—Roman
Roman: It was fun and natural. The laughing is real. There are some comments that are very real that are said. I think it all fits. That’s probably the best definition for it.
Cheryl: My whole life I just made shit cause I wanted to make shit, not because there was a place for it to go. To me, that’s the best art. Like I shot boxing, nobody cared about those pictures. 20 years passed, now they give a shit about those pictures because it’s history. I make stuff because it’s inspiring to me. Not because I think it’s going to do this for me, or someone’s going to pay me to do this. That’s not how to make good art. That’s an agenda. I view this project as that. It’s an art project, a faux talk show. And we’re making it cause it inspires both of us and we feel the insight that we’re gaining and the fun that we’re having is valuable. That is interesting to us and that’s good enough for me [laughs].
Roman: That was kind of the plan setting out. We definitely tried to put a box around it, but we just enjoyed it. Again, it wasn’t stressful. It doesn’t feel like it’s stressful.
Cheryl: I spent a lot of my years documenting artists because I felt what they were doing was culturally relevant. I really feel that documenting artists early in their career is really important. You can never regain that energy, that kind of energy when you’re just so psyched about what you’re doing—early in your career. I’ve done that for 20 plus years. My friends were having art shows, I would always go there and bang out some film and ask them a few questions. Those archives are treasures to me. I use them later in projects. I feel the same about this, “let’s talk to Daniel, he’s shooting pictures for two years, his career is this, how is he feeling.” In a year, he’s not going to remember what he told me. He’s not going to have that same feeling in his heart and in head. We did that, for no apparent reason, we have that document.
To young street photographers just starting, would you say there is specific mindset to have? Do you have to behave like a bird, a shadow, a thief, or an explorer? Do you need to steal or respect moments?
Cheryl: Everybody’s different. Everybody has a different way. You have to find your own way. There’s no rule. It’s whatever works for you and what results you want to get and how you personally achieve them. Your perception on the streets is completely unique to you. The only way to find that out is to do it and to do it a lot. Bottom line: don’t be lazy. If you want to do it, you have to do it all the time. It’s not like, “I turned it on and then I don’t do it anymore.” You’re it and you have your camera all the time. It’s when you least expect it that cool things happen. You have to just be it if you want to be good at it.
But whether to be a shadow, whether to be a lion—sometimes you need to be all of those things. Every circumstance is completely different. Every encounter is completely different. Sometimes being a shadow works, sometimes being aggressive works—you don’t learn those things and you don’t learn how people perceive you as a photographer unless you’re out there doing it. How someone perceives me today is different than a year ago. You also learn a lot from fucking up, making the wrong call. Bottom line: street photography is a moving target. What worked for you this year will probably be completely different next year . You change, technology changes and peoples attitudes constantly evolve.
“My whole life I just made shit cause I wanted to make shit, not because there was a place for it to go. To me, that’s the best art.”—Cheryl
Cheryl: If you did a Wikipedia page of “what is a street photographer?” There’d be many adjectives used. Not everyone has all of those qualities. Some of them, like this guy might be the technician, Ricky Powell’s the crazy character, but combine them all and then you get this picture of what is a street photographer. That’s what I think is interesting finding what’s really special about this guy and what avenue does he go down because he has these characteristics, he’s the guy that knows everything about lens, f-stops and shit. There was a point in editing my movie where we were trying to find chapters or storylines and I was always thinking about the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue at the end of the year and they go, “the technician, the comedian.” They clarify, they put a title and I thought about these photographers in that way.
Cheryl: The nature of the title of my film [“Everybody Street”] in general is about inclusion, is about a democratic medium. Everything that you buy that’s a piece of equipment or a component to photography costs a ton of money. When I was coming up and assisting and trying to get jobs for magazines, I would save for a year or so and buy a lens. I was competing with all these kids whose parents sent them to art school and they had all their cameras, portofolios and connections ready to go. Street photography is not about who you know, it’s not about what you look like, it’s not about, “who is sleeping with what editor” or why you get jobs, it’s about going to the streets and putting in the time. It’s democratic, and art is not democratic. It’s anti-democratic. But street photography is kind of democratic to me in my opinion. That’s why my film was called “Everybody Street:” everybody. If you want to be on it, we welcome you to send us submissions because I am a democratic person. I believe in that because not much in this town and in business is about how hard you work or equals how good you’ll do...
Roman: She’s spot on to what she’s saying. We’re kind of experimenting. The selection and breakdown of what it is again, there is no thin line.
Cheryl: And we welcome submissions. Write us an email (see below). We’re super open.
Roman: You got to be on the street and that’s where I’m from, so I’m supportive of everything she says.