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News & Insight

Is This How You Handle Street Photography Confrontation?

By Kishore Sawh on December 16th 2015

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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.

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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.

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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?

Source: PetaPixel

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stephen Glass

    Love it! Parker Pfister has a good take on this. He engages people on the streets of asheville NC. He “gets their story” then asks for their picture. Brandon Stanton who wrote “Human’s Of New York” did the same thing. In an interview with Chase Jarvis, http://www.youtube.com/user/achaser123/ and it’s been a while but he said this was his approach as well. He got turned down about 70% of the time.
    But it’s worthwhile to make distinctions. There’s street photography and there’s street portraits. shooting with a longer lens the lady with the pink jumpsuit walking her poodle accessorized with pink ribbons is great. But portraits are great too. Each have their challenges and require a ton of patience. Jay Maisel is also a masterful street photographer.

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  2. Joel Dominguez

    This goes well beyond street photography. As someone who has covered varying types of events it simply comes down to respecting people’s personal space. Some people just don’t feel comfortable in front of a camera and when you continue to take their photograph or push the issue it stop being art and turns into harassment.

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  3. Mike Upton

    He definitely handled that situation poorly. You can tell he went in to the video TRYING to start a fight, just so he could pull out that “f**k you, this is America” line. I’ve dabbled in street photography, but I didn’t like it because the people are made uncomfortable, or the cops hassle you like you’re a terrorist scoping out a location. It wasn’t fun when I did it so I stopped. In today’s world, I wouldn’t feel safe in the slightest doing it.

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  4. barbara farley

    This photographer may be a nice guy IRL, I don’t know, but I am going to criticize his behavior in this video. He could try to come off a little less pompous. Maybe he could look at JP Morgan for inspiration there :)

    The guy was walking away when the photographer taunted him. This is the opposite of how I think a serious photographer should behave.

    Please try to be cool, street photographer, you are out there representing.

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  5. Paul Empson

    don’t like his attitude at all and it’s not the style of street photography I like..

    I use a couple of tiny cameras, one with a fixed 28 wide’ish angle and one 28-300 but tiny form factor.. I mingle in plain sight as what I want to capture is real everyday life not angry, suspicious or in their face portraits..

    If I act like a photographer people will be suspicious, if I blend in like a tourist.. no problems..

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  6. graham hedrick

    The dude hosting the video is a putz!

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  7. Chris Lynch

    His nose looks rather straight for someone with that type of approach, but I’m guessing it may not last forever.

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  8. Steven Pellegrino

    Chuck Jines is an interesting guy. I met him this past August in Ferguson, where I live, and he was here to shoot the protests for the year anniversary of the shooting. I warned him that it’s not like it was in 2014 and that the protesters are out to get the media. If they don’t know you, they will kick you out. He said he could handle it. About 2 hours later he was being escorted out of there by the police because he got into it with a few protesters (arguing about first amendment rights) and was about to get the cr@p beat out of him.

    He shoots film and digital. He does some awesome MMA photography and overall is a very good photographer. His street work is excellent. His biggest issue is his personality. He knows what he knows and you’re not going to convince him otherwise. His idea of street photography may not be your idea of street photography and he may look at your street photography and say “that’s not real street photography”.

    He definitely escalated the situation and it could have gone in a different direction had he just let it go. Bruce Gilden, who’s a master at being a rude street photographer (and is proud of it) has more tact than Jines does.

    I don’t have any ill will towards Chuck. He knows what works for him and he has a lot of students who are happy to pay for workshops with him. I’d hate to think there’s a bunch of Jines-wannabe’s running around out there (Gilden dreads the thought that there were people running around acting like he does), so I hope his students take his photography advice and not his social interaction advice and ultimately create some great work.

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    • Pye

      Yeah, in today’s age this kind of stuff is quite scary. You see prank videos all the time where someone gets somebody mad, and before they even have a chance to say it was a joke, they are already fending off fists or even running from a gun being pulled. I feel like this style can only lead to not so good places. But, hey, seems like he’s been doing it a while, so there’s that =)

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    • Tom Fox

      You’re always going to get these interactions though, and while it’s easy to monday morning quarter back it it is different on the street. I’m in peoples face constantly with a 35mm on my Leica, I get shit from everyone, after a while the whole “be nice” thing goes out the window. If people are going to start something with me just for taking a picture I could care less if I offend them. It’s unfortunate that most residents of our country don’t understand the first amendment but it’s something you have to deal with daily as a street photographer. Just think of what Bruce Gilden has to put up with the way he shoots.

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  9. Tom Marvel

    Yeah buddy
    Why don’t you try that act on Canal St….in New York City?
    You’ll get your picture…on the front page of the Daily News
    F**k you indeed

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    • Tom Fox

      I’ve had plenty of people try to start a fight with me in New York, Hartford, Boston, etc.. for taking their pictures. Chuck is right here, its a constitutionally protected activity. If you want to pick a fight with me I could care less. I wouldn’t want to take a brass bodied film camera to the head, thats a good way to end up in the hospital with a TBI.

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  10. Pye

    Super interesting article Kish! Loved the write up and find!

    Something to be said of Chuck’s passion and dedication to street photography. Some of the most interesting photographs I have seen are street photography images. Chuck seems quite willing to stand up to confrontation to capture his images, though I definitely think that there are ways to “disarm” someone that get’s upset like this.

    But either way, it’s tough to speak on this arena or even critique Chuck’s response in this situation. I personally don’t enjoy being in situations like this, which is why I could never be a street photographer. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this video and I really enjoy seeing and hearing people like Jay Maisel speak on the subject.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Good to hear, man. You know, I have little problem if any, with him taking the image and even keeping it. The problem I have is with his attitude to the person. Even if he said firmly that it’s within his right to do it, that’s fine, but you don’t need to flick the guy off, or go for the cheap shot. But, like you, it’s not my domain.

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    • Pye

      Agreed. He definitely escalated what didn’t need to be escalated.

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    • Peter Nord

      The several hours of video of Jay Maisel on the Kelbyone web site illustrate how it should be done.

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  11. Bill Bentley

    I’ve done a bit of street photography over the past couple of years and have come away with some interesting images (I think anyway). I use my 70-300 though. And I try to shoot around poles and corners of buildings, etc. I certainly wouldn’t want to be using a 24mm. And this guy is shooting film? I get wanting that certain look, but with digital you could just go and erase a shot if someone insisted you do so. Good tip about carrying business cards but that might actually make some people more irate if they think you are profiting off of their likeness.

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  12. Darren Russinger

    What a complete tool!

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