If you are located in the Southwest then right now, like me, you are searching for activities to beat the heat and potential boredom of the summers here. Spending a day gazing at photography in the comfortable climate controlled environment in the Phoenix Art Museum fits the bill nicely. In their own words, “Cool art. In a cool place.” Since their renovation earlier this year the PAM has been showcasing work on loan from the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Their current exhibition entitled On the Street: The New York School of Photographers will run until September 2, 2007 and features work from such greats as Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, and the infamous Weegee.

Photographic pioneers honed their craft on the streets of New York: Richard Nilsen for the Arizona Republic

In the 1930s, new technology transformed photography.

The introduction of the Leica and Contax cameras that used 35mm film meant that photographers no longer had to lug around enough equipment to sink a small boat. These handheld cameras – then known as “miniature cameras” – gave their users mobility, anonymity and speed. And it put them out on the street.

The new genre, usually just called “street photography,” changed the way we looked at photographs.

In Europe, the Leica freed Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész. In America, it gave the Farm Security Administration photographers, including Russell Lee, Ben Shahn and John Vachon, a lightness and agility that gives their photographs a sense of life caught on the fly that the more formal work of, say, Walker Evans – who used the old large-format cameras – could ever have with his equipment pinned to the top of a tripod.

The 35mm camera put the photographer in the immediacy of the moment.

But it is the urban streets, and especially those of New York, that gave the genre its classic look. It was in New York that the “grab shot” on the street became almost gospel. New York is a city just waiting for its close-up.