Jun 12, 2012

Street Photography = Creepy?

After choosing to miss a few episodes because of the way many opinions were presented, I decided to give watching The Grid another try. I resumed watching on episode 55 (link will open a new window and start playing the episode). In this episode they discuss the current state of street photography and how people feel about being photographed on the street, specifically women.

The conversation started when Scott Kelby and Jay Maisel had a confrontation while making a class in Paris. Kelby, a professional photographer, married, middle aged, non threatening man and Maisel, an 82 year old, experienced street photographer, both accompanied by a full production crew. While crossing the street Scott snapped a photo of a woman crossing in the opposite direction, who did not approve and proceeded to chew him out in French, not accepting his upheld hands and apology, following him across the street into traffic while continuing to express her disapproval. For the record, the camera crew were recording the portion for the class from across the street, a distance away. She likely did not see them.

So, what are your views on being photographed in public? Is it different as a man or woman being photographed or man or woman being the photographer? The photographer's appearance, clothing and demeanour seemed to have some weight to respondents' answers. How do you feel about the importance of those characteristics?

I've been told that I might make a good street photographer as I'm less threatening and less able to follow someone. I don't agree with those who have said that. Firstly, I'd either be aiming up their nose or at waist level or shooting creepily from a distance. Just makes me uncomfortable thinking about it.

All responses were extremely guarded if it were people's children being photographed. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by this. I completely understand parents wanting to protect their children but their responses seem so incredibly guarded it almost sounded fearful of the world. I know that I grew up in a small city in Saskatchewan and there were very few bad streets or neighborhoods that I was advised to avoid. I never once thought about being careful about where I went or staying out too late because, whether they were there or not, I felt very few threats growing up where I did. Even hearing the stories Angie has told me about growing up in her neighborhood and the cautions her parents gave to her out of loving concern, surprised me.

We all know that every cell phone made within the last five years can take a decent photo. Not just that they can take a decent photo but that they can take a decent quality photo that could fill a computer screen easily and still maintain good image quality. Add to that how a person could look like they are innocently texting and be snapping away without anyone knowing. If anyone is out to take photos with a malicious intent I would suspect that they would be far further ahead to do it with a more compact camera or a cell phone. I would like to think that carrying professional gear that is anything but concealable should lend a degree of credibility to the person carrying that massive bag and camera.

Would you feel more threatened by a person taking a photo of you on the street with a large camera and no intention to conceal themselves or with a small, yet unconcealed, camera but being less obvious or even a little bit sneaky about taking your photo?





The above photo was taken at the zoo with Angie by my side. My goal was to capture the moment of the two girls helping their mom pushed the stroller. It was not to take a photograph of anyone in particular for malicious purposes or of anyone's backside. It was that cute moment that I was trying to capture. One photo just a few seconds earlier had one of the girls looking at me with the cutest smile. I didn't nail the focus on that one so it was trashed. I'm not saying this is a great photo but it is the perfect example of what I am getting at. I want your opinion. Is this creepy? Part of the episode of The Grid focused on some of the participants stating how so much street photography has that hidden camera look to it. I completely understand what they were saying.

In general I am not fond of making street photography. I'm always too afraid to be seen as creepy. The occasional time that I do take a photo of people in public I try to have a nonthreatening demeanor with a pleasant smile on my face. Likely the reason I decided to make a photo of a person is because whatever was happening made me smile. I'm not likely to take a photo of an unhappy situation. Hopefully the people that I am photographing will not have the moment that made them smile diminished because of my actions. I don't go out looking dishevelled or dirty. I don't try to hide my actions. I will make two or three frames and move on. If I were to receive a concerned look I would stop immediately.

Almost never do I ask for permission because at that point you have lost the candid nature of the moment and it is almost always better to shoot first and ask permission later. I will always respect people's preferences if they make it known in even the slightest way that they don't want to be photographed. However, the fact does remain that while in public a photographer has every right to photograph you. I do not say that with arrogance. I am simply stating a fact. People should not feel like they can't go out in public safely but that is the photographic freedom we have in this country. Of course, this is far different than someone following and harassing a person in public with or without a camera.

I would really appreciate any feedback you have about what I said and the questions I have asked. Perhaps what I should end with is the questions, is there anything that would make being photographed in public easier for you? Or is it simply that with the volume of distrust of people seemingly on the rise, the ease of sharing photos taken with any camera growing monthly and the potentially overcautious nature people are developing because of these things, is street photography of people nearing its end?

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