I apologize for the ambiguity of the title. There are two questions here: will people still be taking candid street photos a thousand years from now? And do they still want to see the street photos we take today? Please note: I’ve addressed the last question from a 500 year perspective (“Does Anyone Want to See a Photo of Our Streets 500 Years From Now?”)
To help us think about it, we can look back a thousand years, and, in the absence of photography, consider other media such as writing, painting and sculpture.
For example, in The Sei Shonagon Pillow Book, captivating observations of everyday life in Heian Japan are alive and well, like today’s best candid photography. Although the incidents the author describes took place a thousand years ago, they have an immediacy that speaks to us directly through the ages.
So, yes, literature has withstood the test of time. Painting is more problematic. A thousand years ago painters in the West did not yet feel the need to depict everyday life in their works, concentrating almost exclusively on religious themes. Finally, artists like Pieter Bruegel the Elder were able to make ordinary life the subject of their work, as in his paintings Peasant Marriage 1567 (below).
Ceramics and Sculpture
In both the East and West, ceramics and sculpture from two thousand years ago bring us closer to the subjects of everyday life than the more recent paintings of the early Middle Ages.
For example, in China, the funerary statues of the Terracotta Army, who were buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC, depict thousands of soldiers with individual facial and physique models. Other figures, acrobats, dancers, musicians – even bureaucrats – are perhaps the closest to “street portrait” in the art of that period.
For greater realism, for truly candid poses and “decisive moments”, you need to jump to Tang Dynasty China (618-907) for the best quality wooden and ceramic figures shown below: a woman playing polo. I think the person who made this figure could look at today’s street photos and find a lot to admire in them, while being slightly surprised that so many photographers still stick to black-and-white, but that’s another matter.
[Woman Playing Polo, Tang dynasty, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Photo: Sailko. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
Back to the future
Having glimpsed the past, let’s turn the clock forward.
According to the late Professor Stephen Hawking, humanity will not survive for the next thousand years unless it gets off planet Earth and goes into outer space.
As civilization’s giants move forward, internal threats to human life are added to those from outer space itself. Professor Hawking stated: “I believe that life on Earth is increasingly at risk of being wiped out by disasters, such as sudden nuclear war, genetically engineered viruses, or other hazards.”
Genetically engineered viruses? Heaven forbid!
People in the thirty-first century, exploring the universe, will look at our landscape photography and be reminded of how the Earth has developed over millions of years; then they’ll check our street photography to see what’s happening on Earth in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Looking back and forward, I did what all street photographers do: change the point of view — angle, perspective — trying to understand our role and position in the world, while continuing to record what I see around me.
Does it all matter? It is clear that the future of the world is very important, but it is less clear whether the future of humanity is the most important thing.
We may find ourselves replaced by beings with superior intelligence, as the AI (artificial intelligence) rampages and looks for ways to outwit us. Maybe AI will put the brakes on stopping us from destroying the planet, keeping us in check as pets the same way we keep cats and dogs.
Maybe intelligent robots will demand all the fun of doing street photography.
If there is any photography.
If there is any way.