But it's a different time, too. I've talked about this with a lot of people I know, and I'm expanding in my head as I look at, as I discover Maier's work.
For those who don't know, Street Photography is not photography of streets. It's about people. It's about candid, unstaged, often unposed, subjects. often enough, those subjects are completely unaware they're being photographed. I've tried a little. To begin with, I'm not great at portraits. But beyond that there's a bigger issue.
Fabio Costa, Street-Photographers.com
I'm a guy.
Why's that an issue?
Well, fifty, sixty years ago, it probably wasn't, often. But now? You see a guy with a camera taking pictures of PEOPLE in the street, and even more so, kids, or women, he obviously doesn't know, and they don't appear to know they're being photographed, what's YOUR FIRST THOUGHT?
It makes me uncomfortable to say the least, to be thought of in that light. To have that suspicious spotlight focused on me.
John Goldsmith, Street-Photographers.com
And it's easier for women. I'm not saying that spotlight doesn't brush across them occasionally: I'm certain it does. But I gotta say, Europe, the UK, The good ol' USA, I've not seen any videos of police approaching female photographers and calling them terrorists because they're taking pictures of architecture, and having their gear confiscated. I've not seen people getting in the face of female photographers for taking pictures of women or children in the street. But men... Well, that's a different story.
It's a sad state of affairs when we're losing an artform, or at least a specific (male) perspective on an artform, because of societal paranoia.
And it's even worse that that paranoia is in some cases completely justified.
I don't really have a point with this, other than "this is the way it is, and it's why I don't do it". I'd love to practice this kind of photography. I think street photography is one of the best slices of history you can get: at its best, it's completely unstaged, it's representative, and it is, for lack of a better term, completely real.
Maybe there's a way around it.
Maybe this guy (or girl) is right. You have to be IN it:
Street Photography involves getting close to people — often very close. To do this type of shooting successfully you have to be in the scene, part of it, not a distant observer. This means shooting with wide lenses; certainly nothing longer than 50mm. With a wide-angle lens you are a participant. With a telephoto you are at best just an observer, at worst a voyeur.
But even this guy gets my issue, and why I just... don't try... on this particular topic:
This little girl was standing at the window of a doll store in Florence, Italy. The child's parents were standing just behind her and I was walking towards them with my wife beside me. Before lifting my camera to my eye I smiled at the parents and they smiled back. We all recognized the charm of what we were watching. After taking a few frames, we smiled at each other again and moved on. If I hadn't been with my wife I wonder what their response would have been.
The whole article is worthwhile.
And there's a lot of suggestions for doing it right. What pains me, and worries me, is the cost for doing it wrong. And it's a personal cost, I admit. If I'm goign to play at being an artist, then shouldn't it be worth that cost? And yet I can't make it worth that cost in my head. I can't make the leap to it being worthwhile to me to get a photograph, if the cost is increased paranoia on someone elses part: if the cost is those ten seconds of fear for a mother who thinks a predator is tracking her child, or even her. I can live with having to explain myself, even to the police, if it got that far, but inflicting that on someone else, a parent, someone who's been scared before.
Hell, in the long term, I could even handle a punch from an irate boyfriend or husband.
But I know that feeling, that vibe, about men, about photographers, and about society, is out there. That you can't trust anyone with your own person or your family. And in those situations, the instinct is NOT to talk it out, to rationalize, to find out what's going on. The instinct is to end the percieved danger.
And one thing I noticed, rifling through the shots at Street-Photographers.com, is that the vast multitude of pictures there are of either men, or wide streetscapes. There's few of women, and fewer still of children. And I don't believe for a second that there are no women and children on the streets in question. What I do believe is that I'm not necessarily alone in my feelings, and that there's some pretty serious self-sensoring going on, before the shutter even gets snapped.
So I don't know.
I will, I'm sure, get the odd streetscape, crowd-shot, a person pulled in close because I don't appear to be shooting them, that moment of awesome in a crowd where you get just the right expression, on just the right faces, at just the right time. But I don't think it's something I can willing work at. Because, from purely selfish reasons, I don't think I can deal with seeing that lookin people's eyes, when they know I'm the bad guy: even if it's just for a brief moment.
Parting shot. Not all street photography has to be serious. Nor does it all have to be in black and white.
Lukas Vasilikos, Street-photographers.com