I recently watched episode 55 of the Kelby Media Group’s “The Grid” http://kelbytv.com/thegrid/2012/06/01/the-grid-episode-55/ This episode was mainly about how the woman in the street views being ‘street photographed’. The comments of the three woman interviewed mainly concerned the “creep factor”. Another concern was uneasiness at not feeling ‘presentable’ enough to be photographed and the third concern was having their children photographed.
Firstly, let me point out here and now, that I believe that the reactions of the three woman concerned, despite all three of them being involved in photography, the visual arts or videography in one way or another, were typical knee -jerk reactions conditioned by the public hysteria and panic of recent years generated and promoted by the authorities who tried to turn photographers, professional and amateur, into “terrorists and paedophiles’ aided and abetted whole heartily by the sensationalist press and other media. It never entered the heads of most that this was a heaven sent excuse to prevent the public recording the mis-deeds of the authorities. This of course is a whole different discussion.
Having said that, I need to briefly mention a few points:
1. In their haste to ban photographers, the authorities passed laws banning ‘professional’ cameras. Though it soon became apparent that most of the accusatory photographs and videos were being shot by very unprofessional photographers and cameras.
2. Terrorists can/will always be able to recon. their targets and banning cameras is not going to stop this.
3. Paedophiles; worst case scenario. A photo is taken of a child playing in the park. The photo is then doctored/fixed/manipulated/photoshopped’ and embedded into a pornographic movie. The child becomes an anonymous face in a childporn movie seen by a very tight-closed and proportionately tiny community of very sick people. Nobody will ever know, including that child and the family and if they are made aware of the existence of the movie, then it has to be by someone who knows the child and more importantly is a member of that sick community who could/would never admit to knowing that child or having seen such a movie. The child has become anonymous and nobody knows. The other factor here is, out of the billions of children world wide, how many have been photographed in the park and been ‘doctored’ into a movie which in itself is a huge technical undertaking (ask any photoshop guru, Scott, Matt :-)) and the child/family being made aware of it. I’m not talking about the unfortunate children worldwide who are forced into child pornography. That again is another discussion.
“To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.” Henri Cartier-Bresson
Street photography, like all other art forms has it’s own styles and genres, it’s own schools. Architectural, Photo-Journalism, Street Portraiture, ‘Paparazzi’ (although that is totally misused today) and Candid People Street Photography. I say that Paparazzi is misused today because it has become the term for legitimate Public Celebrity Photography, whereas the true Paparazzi were/are the people who try to steal ‘private’ photos with extreme lenses by photographing celebrities in their privacy. An example, the infamous Jacki Kennedy-Onasis nude sunbathing shots in her garden.
So I am a Candid People Street photographer and have been for nigh on 45 years with thousands of photographs in the files. I do this out in the open with Nikon SLR and usually a 135mm. lens, though often I use the 50mm. Nothing longer or shorter.I don’t ‘sneakily shoot from the hip with a wide-open wide angle lens”, ‘hide myself and/or camera’ nor ‘steal’ pictures. I am out in the open and observe life in the particular area I happen to be. I have, over the years and with literally thousands of hours of patient people watching, learned to anticipate ‘the moment’, which in actual fact is no more than a split second. I don’t provoke ‘the moment’, I wait for it to come to me, it’s real.
Today I also use a Nikon P7000 ‘compact’ digital camera. This is because, unfortunately, I have become a little lazy and schlepping a SLR and lens everywhere has become a ‘chore’ and it is easier to shoot and upload to the computer without having to scan. The thing is, I have not changed my style. I do not ‘machine gun’, i.e. use the multiple exposure function. I always shoot single frame. I still have the patience to wait for ‘the moment’ and I never check the camera screen to see if I got it ‘right’. What I see through the viewfinder is what I shoot and then wait for the next moment. Whilst checking and thinking about the taken shot, better shots can be missed. I use the digital camera, with all it’s different possibilities, just as I would the ‘old fashioned simple’ SLR, always in Aperture priority mode and let the camera decide exposure. As my shooting style hasn’t changed, neither has my ‘success’ rate. Where, on film, I managed 6-7 decent shots per 36 exp. film roll, with the digital it is about the same. It must be remembered that ‘the moment’ is a fleeting instant in time never to be repeated and thus checking the screen is pointless.
Getting back to the original subject of this post, all I have to say to the Ladies is the following. The moment you step out into the street you have made yourself ‘public’. Everybody can see and observe you. if you don’t feel ‘presentable’ enough to be photographed, then you shouldn’t feel presentable enough to be in public. This does not mean that you need to go to the hairdressers and manicurist every time you go out. Just be you. With/without make-up, but feeling good/bad/indifferent with yourself. I am not a creep and if I find you in ‘the moment’, I will photograph you, or what I perceive to be you. It’s what you’re showing the public world. If I photograph a great pair of legs in a very short mini skirt, I’m not being a creep, I’m simply agreeing with the lady, who feels confident enough in her lovely legs, to show them off in public. That’s what mini-skirts and other ‘sexy’ clothing is all about.
Photographing children I generally do with/without the accompanying adult’s permission, though not always is the child accompanied. The only reason I do ask for permission is to alleviate any parental anxiety that may be shown and not because I’m legally bound. It is the same for all my subjects, if they ask/enquire what I’m doing and why, I explain to them who/what I am and during 45 years of doing my thing I can count on the fingers of one hand the objections. It’s always a friendly conversation that ends up in smiles with probably a shot being emailed to them and/or them taking my flickr address to see my stuff.
So to sum it all up, there is nothing creepy about what/how/why/when I do my thing. The prerequisites for successful Street People Photography are a fascination of the human race, respect and love for one’s fellow humans, untold reserves of patience, and most importantly, a good pair of shoes. I am never, never aggressive with my camera and if a subject sees me and objects to being photographed, I never insist, I simply smile and say”okay, thank you”.
Finally, I have every legal and moral right and duty to photograph anyone and everything that is ‘in public’. Photography is simply a form of Expression and in most Democratic countries Freedom of Expression is legal. To me it is a social documentation of the world I live in.