Posted on September 29, 2012
Confidence is something that you’ll need in spades (or shovels or buckets!) when you are out on the street shooting candid photos of strangers. I read this opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald the other day and immediately felt like every woman who saw me on the street or down at the beach from that moment on would be thinking i’m just some kind of freak or pervert with a camera. The truth is there will always be people like that out to take photos for their own sexual gratification and happy to share them with the world.
I take photos because I enjoy photography, the surprises that it brings each time I head outside, and I enjoy sharing those discoveries with the world at large. Not for sexual pleasure, gratification or perversion, rather for the aesthetic and emotional enjoyment that a photo can bring.
The author makes a few comments that I find quite disturbing – this being one of them:
[Women are unaware they] are being preyed upon by a freak with a smartphone. He is the guy standing behind them in the supermarket queue when they pick up milk in their gym gear. He is the bloke below them on the escalator when they’re wearing a skirt, or on the next towel over at the beach, when they’re wearing a swimsuit.
I agree taking pictures of women bending over or on the escalator when wearing a skirt is completely out-of-bounds, but taking pictures of women in swimsuits at the beach? Is it no longer acceptable to take pictures at the beach, where it is often impossible to take a shot that does not include a woman in a bikini?
Below is an example of a photo that presumably wouldn’t be acceptable to the author. Two women in swimsuits at the beach, completely unaware their photo is being taken but which has since become highly acclaimed. It is by Hungarian photographer Martin Munkasci and was taken – wait for it – in 1929.
There are countless more beach and bikini shots from highly regarded photographers. I’m glad that we have them because they take you back to a different era, to different standards of decency and morality, to a time without the ability to immediately share a picture with the world. It would be strange to think that something acceptable over 80 years ago in photography is no longer acceptable today.
In Australia there is no right to privacy and so it is perfectly legal to take candid photos of people in public places. There are exceptions of course, but we need to remember that what we’re doing is not illegal.
It’s also interesting the reactions you get from friends and colleagues. When I showed some of my street photos from earlier in the week to my colleague at work he was surprised firstly that I didn’t ask for their permission, and secondly that I didn’t “get the shit beaten out of me”. In relation to the first element, it depends on the person, their age/vulnerability as to whether or not I ask for permission before taking their photo. Most people, if they don’t want their picture taken, will just do this:
And that is perfectly fine – it doesn’t make for a pleasant photo and they never make it further than the deleted items bin. Also, if someone wanted me to delete their photo after I had taken it, I would probably oblige them unless they were extremely rude or arrogant.
I asked this elderly lady that I spotted the other day whether she would mind me taking her portrait and she said she did mind, so I didn’t end up getting the shot I wanted. I thought she was a beautiful elderly lady with a lot of character and I was hoping to portray her as such, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
On the other hand, the shot I showed yesterday of the old man laying on the bench with the bridge reflecting in the glass – I tried getting his shot the day before and he took off his hat and said to me “Go! Get! Get outta here!”. He also had character but I persevered with him for some reason and to get the shot you saw yesterday I just shot him from the hip instead of through the viewfinder. Was it wrong to take his picture for a second time? Maybe, but at the end of the day it will always be a moral decision the photographer makes at the time. I’m happy with the shot I took yesterday and I’d be happy to share that picture with him.
At the other end of the spectrum should Nick Ut have taken the picture of the napalm girl when she was at her most vulnerable and at risk of dying without assistance? Some say yes, others no. What it did do was show the horrors of the Vietnam War to millions of people around the world in a way words never could.
If there are two qualities that you need when out shooting candids on the street, it would be confidence and a thick skin. I’m working on the former and feel i’ve got the latter – it will just come with practice.
In other news…
Someone posted to reddit a photo of some textbooks with the caption: “Ever seen $600 worth of firewood? Now you have”. I then posted the photo of me with ~$9000 worth of law books with the caption: “I see your $600 firewood and raise you $9000!” My post made it all the way to the so-called ‘front page of the internet’ which was a bit overwhelming. I did enjoy reading some of the comments though, particularly this exchange:
I’d just like to say thanks to the people that read and follow my blog and happenings day to day. I enjoy sharing whatever I’ve got going on and try to make my posts entertaining and interesting. It does make it easier knowing that there are at least a couple of people out there that look at my posts! 🙂 Thank you