I enjoyed reading the approach that Michael Ernest Sweet has taken to the analysis of street photography, but I didn't like everything he had to say. Despite how the criticism scratched a few itches that most photographers share on the merits of photography I think that there is another way for photography (particularly street) to be viewed and considered.
Concepts mentioned such as natural selection aren't well applied. The tools have evolved, not the people. If the point here was to address was a question of survival (in the context of evolution) - then we need to define what survival means in street photography. Considering that seasoned street photographers believe that 99% of images are copies of what came before that means the chances of survival are a thin 1% (my experience is that seasoned street photographers argue a lot and take a few good images). So a good question is, why do even these well informed street photography types continue to take street photographs? For a 1% chance? Maybe. I believe that many of them do it for the experience of photography.
My experience with photography started in 2008. I've been shooting with an iPhone and sharing photos I've taken on mobile phone apps. These apps share my mobile phone images with people who see on their own mobile phones. This process has given me the perspective of photography as performance, a kind of continuously participative experience. Fine art of photography is still a core part of photography, but the changes to mobile phone technology mean that photography too has changed.
Despite millions of disappointed shutter sounds, most people can't avoid emulating images that they have seen, or even those that they haven't. Mobile photography is important to this point. The same device that will motivate people by providing them access to a world of photographs also provides them with the ability to take photographs. People are quickly drawn to a photographic form of emulation by a shared experience. This mobile combination of creation and consumption never existed in the same device before in photography. The comparison of film vs digital is no longer the most relevant comparison in the current photographic environment where it's the connectivity that provides the basis for most people’s experiences of photography.
Michael asked to return street photography to its roots, to purpose. If you, like Michael, believe that purpose is the advancement of vision or an aesthetic, where you also believe that 99% of images are replications, then there is 1% hope for such a purpose. If purpose is the ambition to document something then the aim is more aligned with documentary photography, which is not street photography. This is clearly not the intention of most of the participants. They want to experience photography. Street or fashion, or whatever, the point to identify is the desire for experience motivated by these new photographic devices.
Michael briefly mentions a female street photographer, whose audience interacts with her to give her words of encouragement and praise. That the audience thinks she is brilliant and Michael does not, which is not to say that either are correct. The disagreement does not mean there is something wrong with street photography. Here again it's an interaction, the presence of the photographer that important in creating the "brilliant" feedback, it's not a question of the quality of the work alone. It's possible that the images are aspirational to people who have no experience in photography, and that they see these as attainable, which for them is brilliant. There may be little to no artistic merit in the images when judged by a wider context, but the interaction and the aspiration is the key reason for the response the images receive. The audience may also simply delight in being an audience, which is no fault of the photographer, nor is it the indication that photography needs a full physical. I'd argue that mediocrity has an incredibly important role in the process of learning and developing an appreciation for photography. I know mediocre images have the potential to disappoint many people (myself included) but they are important in their own way.
Photography isn't to blame because it's part of a new way of experiencing photography. As Michael pointed out "the incestuous street photography community - most of whom are "liking" bad work only to have their own bad work "liked" in return" is not photography itself, but the interactions around photography. I also believe that often these interactions are mostly due to a feeling of self-doubt and disappointment that almost every photographer can relate to at some point. This feedback potentially responsible for both delusions of grandeur and the determination to succeed. You can't have one without the other in this new experience, and it's up to the photographer to seek the right sort of criticism amongst a world of hearts and thumbs up.
You will also not curate these images out of photography. But you can curate in a way that harnesses the photographic experience. I set up Mobile Photo Network with a friend (and critic) Misho Baranovic a few years ago. We invite people to submit images on Instagram, and we curate images that we believe deserve a slower look. The community of photographers is the point of Mobile Photo Network, it's not a curated gallery of the best photographs, it's a connected gathering of people and conversations around photography. Due to mobile photography and new devices it is often said that photography is changing, but I think that's an incomplete explanation. If 99% of images being re-produced over and over again mean that photographs (as a commodity) aren't able to change, then it's the experience of photography that is changing.