Street World

The Street finds its own uses for things, William Gibson noted in 1989. Nearly 20 years later, the editors of Street World substantiate his observation by enlisting nearly 100 photographers to compile eye-popping visual evidence of their transnational urban culture — at once homogenous and geographically idiosyncratic — that exists outside and beyond the media-dominated, commodified discourse. Graffiti artists, street performers, musicians, fashionistas, skateboarders, lowriders, motorcycle clubbers, shantytown dwellers, and juvenile cliques mix in a global stew of home-grown, amateur, lowbrow trends, fads, and creative modes of expression, which continuously bubbles and churns beneath our noses, tossing up bits and pieces that get co-opted by the for-profit mainstream. With the United Nations recently reporting that this year will see, for the first time in history, fully half the world’s population living in urban environments, such unmapped territory can only assume ever-greater prominence. Street World attempts to be comprehensive but remains a scattershot, incomplete cartography of this brave new world. No preliminary editorial plan of coverage is evident. Rather, the book seems to have been assembled along the lines of “the things one hundred cool photographers found interesting, subsequently sorted into loose categories.” Consequently, large areas of the globe — China, most notably — go unexplored, as do whole subcultures that justifiably deserve attention (live-action role-playing games, flash mobs). But the imagery and information that is included possess a journalistic vividness that will delight and astonish. Humanity’s unquenchable creativity and need for self-expression elude all corporate trammels, and Street World embodies the anarchic spirit of its subject with both elegance and charming rudeness.