As mentioned previously on this blog, street photography is my favourite genre of photography. It is where I started, like many other photographers; teaching ourselves about the camera we’re holding and the medium in general. The genre is a popular training ground/workspace as it offers photographers a wide range of subjects, shapes, tones and settings, as well as a substantial element of unpredictability and risk.
It is also a controversial genre, as Thomas Leuthard’s quote relates to. The controversy centres on the idea that taking a picture of someone on the street is an invasion of privacy. To this end, the below article (see link) examines a number of photographer’s different perspectives on the genre and this moral dilemma.
The article offers interesting insights into how photographers approach the genre and tackle the moral predicaments it throws up. I am very much in the “street photography as an art form” camp (however pretentious that sounds). However, I do understand the opposing argument. Ultimately, I feel it comes down to the way you behave and the guidelines you adhere to when taking images on the street. The main thing I took away from the discussion is the importance of having personal guidelines that negate the morale ambiguity of the genre. Similarly to the photographers featured in the article, I have a set of guidelines that I stick to when capturing images on the street:
· Try to engage your subject in someway after taking the picture. I.e. a smile or nod, if its appropriate say hello – the aim isn’t to be completely invisible, it’s to get insightful images that tell a story or capture someone’s character.
· Never keep/take a photo of someone who is uncomfortable with having his or her picture taken. In my mind, any charm a photograph had is diminished if the subject is unhappy/uncomfortable as a result.
· Never take a picture that pokes fun at the subject.
· Try to keep a low profile – this enables more natural, candid images.
· Avoid taking images of the homeless – it’s probably my least favourite street photography cliché and if I was homeless the last thing I’d want is a photographer sticking a camera in my face.
I will continue to take photographs of people on the street while adhering to the above guidelines and being mindful of the impact of my presence when taking pictures. I feel the images gained offer cultural, social and creative insights into people and a place where many of us spend a large proportion of our lives.