We Love Street Photographers: Debunking Another Myth

We Love Street Photographers!
We Love Street Photographers (Almere Netherlands July 2013)

This image highlights one of my pet peeves about the new dogma that is being laid down for what is becoming almost a new cult: street photography.

One of the tenets of the gospel this new cult runs with is that people hate having their photo taken. Not that some people don’t like it, but ‘people’ as in the broad universal use of the word: nobody likes having a camera pointed at them. No how, no way.

This loathing by the public of cameras means, of course, that stealth is required of the intrepid ‘street tog’. He (and forgive me, but the adherents of this new cult as opposed to the very long and established tradition we know of as Street Photography, seem to be overwhelmingly male) has to be discrete. No, sorry, wrong word: discrete implies manners and thoughtfulness. The word I am looking for is sneaky. He has to be sneaky (though he will deny it), he has to hide, both himself and his camera. So, the gear has to be small (and the more expensive the better) he has to act quickly, be a hunter. He has to be there but not there, he has to keep his presence hidden.

All total and absolute rubbish. Just like most so-called wisdom proclaimed by cults. Naturally some people are not going to like being photographed. That’s just human nature. And of course there are people’s legitimate anxieties about privacy and protection of children as well as a (false as it turns out) perception that people with cameras (especially sneaky ones eh?) are working for terrorists. Over the years it is true I have had a handful of people say no when they see my camera, or who turn away. And there has been the odd person who’s shouted at me. I have been spoken to by police three times because ‘members of the public’ have been ‘suspicious’ of me. None of these has lead to me being arrested, or punched, or having my camera grabbed. I’ve not been chased or been given a bloody nose.

Speaking of bloody noses, a couple of years ago a film was released featuring ‘famous’ New York street photographers. In this film one ‘tog’ is seen bloodied from a confrontation with someone he tried to photograph. Do an internet search for New York street photographers and you wlil come up with a whole lot of really good but perhaps not quite so famous street photographers. And you will also  come up with this film. For some, I am very sad to say, it would be a kind of initiation rite (like with any cult I guess) to have blood spilled. The ‘tog’s’ blood that is. Spilled by angry ‘subjects’. All in the line of ‘duty’. Sigh.

Anyway, my point is this: most people seem, in my experience, to either not mind, or actually like being photographed. Just like the family in my image here.

And if someone does mind or isn’t happy? Well just explain what you are doing, apologise, offer to delete the photo and move on. Nine times out of ten this approach will solve the problem and you might even end up having a nice chat with a stranger. Personally, what I can say is this: People have thanked me, asked for copies, even asked me to photograph them and/or their children again. This hasn’t happened just once or twice either.

So, here’s my advice. It’s actually what I would suggest if you were thinking of joining any type of cult: Do not just take others’ word for anything. Even Buddha said ‘Don’t believe anything I tell you, go out and find out for yourself’ (I paraphrase with respect). Question everything. Experience will tell you what is real and what isn’t.

May your street photography experiences be as joy filled as mine have been (and continue to be!). May you bring your own vision and heart to the task.


This post was written some time ago, but I think is still very relevant