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Street Photography - Have a Beer. Don't Cost Nothin'.
Good Evening, Godless Sodomites.
Street Photography
Street Photography is one of the things I've never been brave enough to really throw myself into. I love the idea: it sprung to mind again today with Mother Jones' article on Vivian Maier. She shot some stunning pictures, completely candid, unstaged, city personality images, and never shared them. They were found a few years back, and it turned she'd died fairly recently after the find. Read the story: it's worthwhile.

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
5 comments or Leave a comment
yumikid From: yumikid Date: May 18th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Maybe the key is to go out as a pair. And to start with larger events. Canada Day, for example. You are less likely to be given the hairy eyeball if you're doing street photography on Canada Day.

Start with that, and then as you build your confidence, you can move on.
boozysmurf From: boozysmurf Date: May 18th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
You may be right. that may work.

I'm not certain it'll alleviate my worries on this subject, but it'll definitely be worth a shot.


Also, need more monster trucks.
vandyke_brown From: vandyke_brown Date: May 20th, 2011 02:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
As a young(ish) woman, and a mom, I'm trying to think of situationsa where I'd be comfortable with somebody I didn't know taking my picture.

I can't think of any.

A lot of my (*ahem*) social activities are of a sensitive nature, and I work for a conservative company, so my default is to avoid cameras. True, my picture wouldnt' have my name attached to it, but my image would still be 'out there'. So whether it's walking in the SLutWalk, or romping at the park with Patrick I'm wary.

Daycares and schools have contributed to this - getting parents to sign formal "My child may be photographed" permission forms.

Also, it's uncomfortable to know that a horrendous picture may be taken, and then out there. Did you see the episode of Sex and the City where main girl shows up for a photoshoot and she's hungover and exhausted. They take some "light level" tester photos, then she goes for makeup and hair and is made all pretty, and the 'real' photos are taken. When the issue comes out the photos of her looked wrecked are used, with an editorial roasting her as a white trash party girl.

I would also worry about the "frat boy prank" element. You see a young man with a camera, I hate to say it, but my first thought is that he's taking pictures of young hot women to put on his bedroom wall, or just as bad, createing a wall of "ugly obese" women to mock with his fellow neandethals.
vandyke_brown From: vandyke_brown Date: May 20th, 2011 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

If somebody took my picture, then immediatly approached me and introduced themselves, explained their intent, gave me a business card and offered to show me the picture. . .that might help.

BUT, would the subject get a veto over pictures once they are taken? If a subject demanded you erase a picture, would you? Do you have to? You take the best picture of your life, but the subject wants it deleted bcause they think it makes their nose look big?
boozysmurf From: boozysmurf Date: May 24th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
The legality is, that no. In a public place, there's no 'expectation of privacy' (ie. on the street, at an event) and it's technically open season. That said, the unspoken rule is if someone asks you to delete a picture of them, you do. EXCEPT. News/blog/reporting gets exempt from that, etc. Authority figures who may or may not be over-reaching their authority, same thing. You don't get to claim "it's of me, and I don't like it" if it's incriminating.

It's a very grey area, and this is a large part of my issue. And if it's the best picture I've ever taken, and someone wants me to delete it? Not gonna lie. There may be a 'tough shit' attitude taken on that. But that's also unlikely to happen, but there's definitely a feeling in me that says "art over lack of confidence in appearance" the whole point of street photography is to get reality, NOT magazine glamour shots. People being people, and living their lives, unstaged.

And yeah, there's a difference between a photographer and voyeur (and not in the good sense of voyeur).

Like I said. Huge grey areas.
5 comments or Leave a comment