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Salvador de Bahia
Photograph: Antonello Veneri

19 incredible street photographers pick the one shot that sums up their city

Cities are loud, filthy, chaotic places. But these images will remind you that they can be pretty damn glorious too

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Written by
Huw Oliver
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In London a mass of revellers gyrate to thumping bass music. In Johannesburg a thrift market throngs with bargain-hunters. And in Miami a solitary figure contemplates the skyline as the sun sets over her home city.

What do all these scenes have in common? They all celebrate life in our cities at its fullest – overflowing with soul and vitality. (And after a year of lockdown, it’s what we’re longing for a return to.) Modern urban living can be chaotic and loud and very often lonely. But it can also be pretty damn glorious. And that should be the overriding impression you get from this selection of images taken by street photographers in some of the world’s greatest cities, from Rio de Janeiro to Hong Kong via Madrid.

Some were taken by pros with all the gear, others were smartphone snappers with brilliant Instagram accounts. We asked them all to pick a single shot that truly sums up street life in their city (and provide a brief explanation why). Vibrant or empty, jubilant or downcast, the results are a buoyant celebration of streetlife worldwide – in all its glory and contradictions. Why would you ever want to leave?

Street photographers on the shot that sums up their city

Cape Town


Cape Town: Untitled


‘Taken at Wynberg station, on a busy weekday, this image represents a side of Cape Town that’s rarely seen, celebrated or photographed. The photo is filled with depth, culture, and character, and has so many layers to it. On this day, the station was packed and moving so fast, commuters all over and everyone rushing to get to their destination. As I looked for a moment to capture, I turned my head down a side street, and the composition just fell into place. A moment of calm and serenity in an otherwise overcrowded and bustling place.’ Wayne Hipe, @waynehipe

Delhi

 
Delhi: Untitled

‘Delhi is a state of mind, it’s felt in a moment. It’s a city you can experience by truly being in it, rather than judging it from the sidelines. It’s constantly changing, imperfect and incomplete. It’s a city which doesn’t pause. Moments are always coming together, everyone has a role: if you blink you miss it. Delhi is a city where you can experience beauty in imperfection. Here is one such moment where everyone comes together to form a bigger whole.’ Rohit Vohra, @rohit_apf

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Johannesburg

 
New Orleans: Untitled

‘I chose this work because it depicts individuals deeply rooted in the longstanding culture that makes New Orleans globally recognised and beloved as a city. It is with the utmost importance that my work portrays this melting pot of culture in its purest form.’ Kewon Hunter, @kewonhunter

London


London: Untitled

‘This street scene, captured one late-summer afternoon, is not an everyday London scene, but it does represent something symbolic about the capital – it’s a melting pot and everyone is invited. We can see tightly packed groups of people on a narrow road, enjoying dancing together to the low bass and upbeat tempos emanating from a soundsystem at Notting Hill Carnival. The carnival, set up by the Caribbean community to provide solidarity and soothe tensions at a turbulent time, is a reminder of the generations of enterprising immigrants London has attracted over the centuries.’ Orlando Gili, @orlandogili

📸 We asked Orlando to photograph seven London hair salons as they reopened for the first time in months

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Cape Town

 

Copenhagen: Untitled


‘Copenhagen is a beautiful and super-liveable city which really comes to life in the summer when the dark winter is long forgotten. I love photographing people on the streets – and this is from one of my favourite events, Copenhagen Pride.’ Thomas Søndergaard, @sondergaard

Prague
Photograph: Ninguém é de Ninguém (Nobody’s Nobodies) Arpoador Beach, Rio de Janeiro, 2014, Rogerio Reis, courtesy of Tepper Takayama Fine Arts


Rio de Janeiro
: Nobody’s Nobodies (Ninguém é de Ninguém)


‘Nobody’s Nobodies is composed of spontaneous photographs taken, without permission, on my city’s beaches. The colourful dots used to protect identities remind me of the provocative humor of the American artist John Baldessari and those floating circles of concealment first used by the Bauhaus artist and professor László Moholy-Nagy in his iconic 1925 image, The Olly and Dolly Sisters. Today, we can still amuse ourselves in a society which creates and protects individual property rights when it comes to images taken in public spaces.’ Rogerio Reis, @rogerioreis.fotos

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New York


New York: Untitled


‘The silence is deafening! Yet even with the silence, I took pleasure as I watched New Yorkers walk through the Oculus on their way to work. For more than a year, I’ve trawled the streets documenting the devastation that the pandemic has brought upon our lives. News may tell you one thing, but what you can always count on is the streets. The streets don’t lie! Boarded-up stores, and the homeless population we walked past every day, are now out of the shadows and in full view for all to see. I’ve watched as the city slowly starts to get back into the swing of things. If I had to take one thing from this, it’s just how much we need social interaction.’ Phil Penman, @philpenman

📸 Now meet another awesome NYC street photographer with their finger on the pulse of the city

Johannesburg


Madrid: Madrid’s DNA


Madrid is a city which nobody really comes from, in which everyone has their own vision of the place, but in which everyone looks to the sky – like in this photograph – in search of fun and thrills. It is a city where it is easy to talk to strangers and for them to teach you totally new things about it. If you are open to surprises, this is the place.’ Alfredo Arias, @AfredoAriasPhoto

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Johannesburg

 

Naples: Untitled

‘If I had to choose one of my photos that I think represents Naples I would choose this one. Here sky and sea merge into a single blue spot, the colour of my city. This thin child is embraced by the majestic figure of Vesuvius: our volcano is the reference point and when we look at it we immediately feel at home. For many Neapolitans, the seafront promenade is all that’s needed to have fun in summer.’ Ciro Pipoli, @ciropipoli

Salvador de Bahia


Salvador de Bahia: Untitled

‘I chose this photo because it represents the most authentic Brazil I know, in the most authentic Brazilian city: Salvador de Bahia. In the photo, there are at least three things that are very common in Brazilian streetlife: churrasco (grilled meat), music blasting from huge stereos in car boots, and dancing. Together, these three elements are powerful – the man in the foreground is almost in ecstasy. The transgender women you see dancing live in a hotel in the Ladeira da Preguiça (the street of laziness), one of the liveliest places in the city.’ Antonello Veneri, @antonelloveneri

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Johannesburg


Johannesburg
: Breakfast in the City

‘The City of Gold is a vibrant, cutthroat place. Filled with promises of riches and opportunity, people from all corners of Africa journey here for a better life. This is one of my favourite photos, taken on an iPhone 4s at a popular thrift market. The man in the middle is monitoring his stand while having his morning tea and breakfast, as the rest bargain-hunt. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. It was edited in black and white to allow the viewer to focus on the subjects and story: a story of courage, of hustle and grit.. a story of survival.’ Londeka Thabethe, @londeka

Rotterdam

 

Rotterdam: Untitled


‘For me Rotterdam is the best place for street photography in the Netherlands. It’s a modern city with lots of beautiful architecture so you can easily find great backgrounds for the people you shoot. It’s multicultural, with more than 170 nationalities, and incredibly vibrant. I like taking pictures of people behind glass like trams, buses and restaurants – and capturing their reflections.’ @fokkomuller

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Los Angeles

 

Los Angeles: Keep the Lights On

‘L.A.’s famous Broadway: once home to the Pacific Electric Red Cars and klieg lights that announced the largest collection of lavish movie theatres on one street in America. While the 1930s version of Broadway is coloured by nostalgia, it plays into the romantic notion of L.A. as a place once unquestionably better in a time before. Despite this, the thoroughfare still exudes an ineffable pull on Angelenos. In 2008, the city launched the Bringing Back Broadway initiative, part of which involved lighting up many historical façades and marquees. For me, it's seeing those lit up marquees that speaks to L.A.’s indomitable spirit, as if broadcasting to the world: stay tuned, we will be back.’ Daniel Sackheim, @daniel.sackheim

Seoul

 

Seoul: Untitled

‘The incredible growth that changed Seoul and the life of its people for ever after the end of the Korean War is known here as “the miracle on the Han River”. Looking at this picture of one of the most popular parks on that same river, it feels like the hard-won achievements of the old generation and the energy of the younger one seamlessly blend together in the very place it all started. It’s a small glance at the vibrant and beautifully diverse streetlife of Seoul, where contrasts and contradictions have found a unique way to coexist with one another.’ Stefano Scuccimarra, @ssteart

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Chicago


Chicago: Untitled

‘I enjoy this image because all of the things that made it miserable to be out in Chicago that night also helped to create a beautiful photo. It was cold, wet and late, and I was ready to go home, but decided to tough it out and it turned out to be worthwhile. I love walking the streets of Chicago late night or early in the morning because you never know what you’re going to seebetween the interesting people, Midwest weather and local sights, there’s an endless array of beautiful street-photography opportunities here. Chicago over everything!’ @snappy.chan

📸 The Instagram accounts to follow that capture Chicago’s streets in all their glory

Buenos Aires


Buenos Aires
: Untitled


‘This photo reminds me of my first visit to Buenos Aires in 2018. I still remember my first walk through the avenues in the Núñez neighbourhood; I was amazed by its classic architecture and extremely surprised by the warmth of the people. Of course, I walked by the Obelisco on Avenida 9 de Julio. After that walk, I told myself that Buenos Aires was the city where I wanted to live, without imagining that a year later I would be landing in the city again, with all my suitcases in hand. The moral: if you visit Buenos Aires you run the risk of wanting to stay.’ Lenny Ruiz, @lennyruizc

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Miami

 

Hong Kong: Untitled

‘On a rainy afternoon in North Point, Hong Kong, shoppers brave the rain to visit one of the local markets to buy their weekly groceries. Not far from the North Point tram terminal, along a narrow street nestled in between towering apartment blocks, this market is one of Hong Kong’s most iconic locations for street photography, capturing the dense urban architecture, bustling street stalls and classic tram cars that the city is so well known for.’ Blair Sugarman, @blairsugarman1

Prague


Prague
: Untitled


‘Photographing the streets of Prague presents unique opportunities: the sum of its colours, architecture and people. This photo highlights all of those parts – the oranges that are integral to the Prague I’ve learned to love, the castle and bridge that are known worldwide, and the people of Prague enjoying a rare moment of warmth and sun.’ Chelsea London, @clondon

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Miami

 

Miami: Nat at Sunset

‘This image is about reflection and transition, which I think speaks to where Miami is at now. I took the photo just as Miami was transitioning from day to night – you can see the lights in the skyline turning on as the sun sets. Natalia, the subject, is having a thoughtful moment as the sun tickles her back for the last time that day. She is prepared for night. I think Miami is at a similar stage right now: we are transitioning from a pandemic period to a hopeful era, though still burdened by thoughts of the past. To me it seems like we’re right in the middle between the two, trying to find peace.’ Julian Cousins, @blackliger_

Now read up on street eats

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