“I think there’s a terrific difference in the way that street photographers work today compared to the past. They are both liberated and blinded by the technology of the digital camera,” says Westerbeck. “When Meyerowitz or Winogrand would go out on the street, they might go out for the day and take two rolls of film to shoot 72 pictures. After developing the roll, they’d make contact sheets which would always get saved—even though there might be pictures on it that would make them think, ‘What the hell was I thinking when I shot that?’ Weeks or months later, they might take another picture that suddenly reminds them of those other pictures, and a new idea then emerges.”
In contrast, Westerbeck says, a photographer today may go out and shoot 300 or 400 pictures with a digital camera. “By the end of the day, they might start deleting them,” he says. In doing so, “you are going to throw away some very good ideas,” he says, “partly because you are overshooting since it doesn’t cost you anything, and partly because you are ‘under-understanding’ the images.”
The manner in which a street photographer comprehends her own images is something that Westerbeck believes lies at the core of the genre. Almost paradoxically, he believes street photographers must intuitively understand what they are doing, but must also not overanalyze the work they make, both as they are shooting and after the fact.