I've read the book straight through and it holds up quite well that way too, full of interesting perspectives and anecdotes.
It's only when held to a slightly more demanding standard --as a component in contemporary photo history/criticism-- that the book's beauty marks begin to show. In the words of one online commenter,
"this ain't scholarship… more like a collection of 3-point shots and flying lay-ups...T&H is trying to ride today's street photo craze with a relatively inexpensive book of eye work designed to appeal to semi-casual practitioners rather than scholars"I don't know if I'd go that far, but there is perhaps a grain of truth in that sentiment. SPN seems intended more as a glossy survey than a probing one.
In comments on 2point8 Joanna Neurath and Sophie Howarth both make it clear that the book was not intended as a serious academic study. Instead, according to Neurath, the target audience was three-pronged: "1) Those who study the history of photography or those who are dedicated street photography fans. 2) another audience, a more general reader, one who doesn’t have as much knowledge as the people who read these forums for instance. 3) A reader who mainly wants the images."
Fair enough. But even if the aims of the editors were clear, confused reactions were perhaps to be expected. As the first broad street photography book to be published since Bystander in 1994, comparisons to that book were inevitable, especially considering the title which seemed to play on that multiyear void. You've waited 16 years…until Street Photography Now. But SPN is not a sequel to Bystander. Its approach is quite separate, and I think the differences between the books illustrate changes not just in street photography but in general photographic scholarship.
While Bystander came at the tail end of pre-internet era, Street Photography Now seems intimately tied to the web. Maybe I'm wrong but I'd speculate that most of the research for the book was done online. I say this not just in response to various citation snafus (documented here and here) but in response to the material itself. The selection of photographers seems young, global, and web-savvy, with a substantial dose of HCSP, Flickr, and In-Public members.
Meanwhile, some street stalwarts who aren't daily participants in the online world are left out, e.g., Charles Traub, Sylvia Plachy, Daido Moriyama, Friedlander, and Henry Wessel, not to mention the patron saint of candid street photography, Elliott Erwitt. Joel Meyerowitz is included even though he hasn't been an active street shooter for 40 years. Could it be due to his strong online presence? If it's an homage to his pioneering streetwork, the other exclusions seem odd.
The selection of resources in the appendix also seems peculiar. Why is Papageorge's Passing Through Eden included instead of his much more streety American Sports? Mermelstein's pedestrian Twirl/Run nudges out his brilliant No Title Here? If you're going to list Paul Graham, wouldn't you choose Beyond Caring rather than Shimmer of Possibility? Or Meyerowitz's Wild Flowers instead of Legacy? Does Uncommon Places really belong on a street list? Or two entries for the same Friedlander book? My point isn't to quibble over particular selections but to show that the list of resources seems scattered and arbitrary. To me it looks like the type of info that often results from a quick online search (maybe of this list?).
Well, so what? What's wrong with online research? Nothing. I use it all the time, including many times in this post. But as I've noted above it does color the general tenor of the material. Whereas Bystander was dense with historical background, SPN (true to its title) doesn't have much memory. In many ways the book feels like a simple byproduct of the online street photo community, with that tie continuing after publication. Bryan Formhals makes a similar observation: "there’s a synchronicity between the planning of this book and the rise of the vibrant street photography communities you find on the web today at places like HCSP and others." Would the book be better titled Street Photography Online Now?
Perhaps an internet-centric book is appropriate. After all the web, not the street, is where many Street Photographers Now congregate. Alec Soth's recent From Here To There seems to derive similar inspiration from the web, and maybe these are two of the first books in a growing movement. If people are still reading books in 50 years, my guess is that they'll look like these. But I can't help wondering what this movement is leaving behind. Don't street photographers need to visit the real world occasionally? Isn't that the whole point of it?
I don't mean to come down too hard on SPN. In case I haven't been clear, this is a book worth owning for anyone interested in street photography. The photography is generally great and, as many have noted, you're virtually guaranteed to discover work that'll be new to you. If you enjoy looking at street photography online you'll love reading this book. Just bear in mind, those are two very different activities.