I’m always a little bewildered when I hear other photographers speak down about ‘street photographers’ and street photography. This is because I both love people watching and love looking at good street photography, and because I find it a very unnerving, if not terrifying process.
I liken it almost to walking through a mall where the salespeople at the kiosks in the middle seem to fearlessly approach you with a smile to ask you something or sell you something. Can it be a bother? Sure, but I always think to myself how incredibly resilient they must be, and how much grit they must have to do that – to face rejection 99% of the time and continue. Similarly, with street photography, you’re photographing people without their consent, positioning yourself in the line of sight and thus, line of fire.
As such, you’re going to stick out, and a nail that sticks out gets hammered. So photographing people on the street goes hand in hand with confrontation. The few times I’ve done it have yielded confrontations of some sort perhaps 50% of the time, and it’s not always easy or comfortable. But in my experience, how you respond, makes a massive difference, and there’s a video published this week by photographer Chuck Jines, where he reveals the kind of person he is when confronted by someone who doesn’t want their photo taken. You can see it below, and in my opinion, it’s awful.
Disclaimer: Some strong language involved
Of course, there are, depending on where your feet are planted, laws that dictate you can very well photograph whatever and whomever you damn well please, but that doesn’t mean it’ll please the person you’re photographing, and you should be prepared for that. But what does that mean? How do you prepare for every possible scenario? Well the obvious answer to me is, you can’t, but it helps to take a mental stance before you begin, and of course, to know the law.
By ‘stance’ I’m referring to preparing yourself for what you’ll say when you’re confronted with someone who asks you either what you’re doing, or not to take their photo. Are you going to be a hardliner and work within the parameters of the law, or are you going to accept that even if you’re in the right legally, perhaps you’re going to respect the wishes of your subjects. After all, I think we’ve seen that ‘the law’ is rather less concerned with our privacy than many of us would like. Jines’ response was summed up as,
We try to be cool with people, try to use our card, but if that don’t work we tell em f*** you this is America. Now, you gotta try to be sensitive…
It seems clear that he’s laid out that he has no intention of doing anything but exploit the law to his advantage, regardless of the ruin he may have just made of someone’s day. Particularly enjoy the rather crass and smug, ‘Thanks for the photo,’ moment. I’m certainly not one for caring to please everyone, but this is a way of handling things I don’t subscribe to.
[REWIND: SONY A7II | PROOF SIZE ISN’T EVERYTHING & IT’S HOW YOU USE IT]
My approach has been to accept that the price I have to pay for a good photograph is time and patience. The time is for explaining to people who ask what it is I’m doing and why. On more than occasion, I’ve turned a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ by sitting down with them if need be to have a conversation that’s more revelatory about myself rather than preachy or defensive. The patience is for accepting that some won’t care, and it may just take longer to find a new subject. That’s hard when the subjects you’ve got aren’t as good as the one you could get, but sometimes you gotta ‘dance with the one that brung ya’.
I think in this day and age too, where many a person is on edge and could very well be gun-toting, perhaps maybe a slightly more delicate touch would go farther. This is more the way Brandon Scranton of HONY does it, and well, that seems to have served everyone well. What’s been your experience? How would you handle this sort of scenario?