A street photographer is wandering around, looking for interesting things to photograph. He has no special agenda other than to be recognized as the next Cartier Bresson, someone with a fabulous eye. He looks left and sees a hot dog vendor - the lighting is perfect and there is a shadow in the background that just adds something to the image - a small child is reaching up to take his just served hot dog. In less than half a second the photographer has seen all these elements come together and takes the picture. Because he's been doing this for a while, focus is spot on, exposure is right, he's learned the trick of good hand holding.
The photographer moves on. Someone is sweeping the sidewalk, large clouds of dust kicked up and the late afternoon sun isolates the sweeper from the background. Suddenly a pretty girl walks by in front of the sweeper and he glances up to admire her. Click.
Our photographer spends a few hours out photographing, coming home with a few dozen images, a couple of them he's really excited about. On looking at the images on computer, one of the two good images is trash - fatal distacting elements or too harsh lighting or split second late. A couple of images that didn't excite the photographer at the time show some real promise. In the end the photographer comes up with four pleasing prints and one fabulous image, not the one he expected.
The above is a not untypical scenario, whether applied to a sports photographer, fashion or landscape. But what about meaning?
You might best describe this kind of image in the above scenario as "slice of life". No great truths have been unveiled but the images (if they are good) beautifully illustrate ordinary human existence. It might be hard to see meaning in any one image especially when examined critically and excessively, but when you put together the work of our street photographer over a year - it tells a story of "our town", beautifully illustrating those little moments in life which define our existence. In this way, they do have meaning and purpose and are worth sharing with others.
The photographer may not have had the intention of "doing a project" but in essence by choosing the images he does, by electing to be a street photographer and select a location and work at it repeatedly until both successful and with a body of work behind him, it really ends up as a project.
The photographer thought of himself as "cruising for snaps" as the late Fred Picker described it, but inadvertently managed to produce a meaningful body of work that many an office worker can relate to.