Street Photography and Behavioral Science

Photo by Ionut Coman Photographer on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Wikipedia defines street photography as “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.”  The overarching goal of street photography is to capture “the decisive moment” – a term coined by the pioneering photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, which refers to an instant in time in which forms come together to express something particularly powerful and evocative to the viewer.

Unlike other genres, the street photographer doesn’t arrange studio lights, pose models, or attempt to influence the scene that they capture.  Instead, they combine patience, timing, and keen observation skills to capture something special in the moment.  Such a unique repertoire has lead some to talk about the practice of street photography as an exercise in mindfulness.

As a behavioral scientist and photography enthusiast, when I take to the streets with my Canon 7D, my internal verbal dialogue changes.  The act of walking around with a camera puts me in the present moment.  Over time, the stimulus functions of the people and places around me change such that I become more aware of my surroundings.  In other words, the things to which I respond change over time.  I come to appreciate things that I would otherwise ignore.  My ability to engage in rule-governed behavior known as tracking improves.  I come to respond to the world, perceptually, and overtly, in a more intimate way.

From a behavioral perspective, the genre itself is a medium to artistically express behavior as it occurs around us.  B.F. Skinner’s vision for a science of behavior included the entire human world, and he called upon us to extrapolate basic principles to that world at will.

In street photography, however, instead of extrapolating principles we are expressing them and documenting them through art.  A series of images along a theme can be put together to express something powerful about people in your community, or about broader social issues.  So pick up your camera, take to the streets, and see where you find your story to tell.

This article is part of our larger series on behavioral science and art, as a joint collaboration between bSci21Media and Ignite STEAM Labs.  We invite you to check out the full series below, and to reach out to us if you would like to discuss how to integrate behavioral science and art into your work.

Behavioral Science and Art: A Manifesto

Behavioral Science and Art: Don’t Overthink Writing

Behavioral Science and Art: The Defusing Effects of EDM

Behavioral Science and Art: Primal Musical Expression in a Rule-Governed Society

Jazz in Deep Ellum, Texas

Ignite STEAM Labs is the non-profit innovation arm of ENSO Group. Ignite STEAM Labs creates science-based art and art-based science. It is in this integrative work that we can do as those before us like John B. Watson did – to extend the appetitiveness of behavioral science to larger audiences, not by talking about behavioral science, but by affecting others through the science.  The behavioral analysis of symbolic thought and language as guided by Relational Frame Theory is prime for an explosion of science-guided art for Skinner’s original vision of a world improved through behavioral science.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org.  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurialbSciWebDesignbSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org

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