The Great War?

The Great War on Photographers: A Dispatch From The Trenches is another interesting article on PetaPixel in which Randall Armor looks at the work of street photographer Karl Baden and a problem he encountered in taking a photograph from inside his car in a shopping centre car park, moving on from there to the problems faced more generally be street photographers.

Later in the post, Armor looks at a CBS local ‘hatchet job’ on a pair of street photographers working in a shopping area of Boston, and he comments on it: “I would have crossed the street if I saw one of these guys coming, and I’m a street photographer!”

Me too, and I think that we do need to think about the way other people see us and the way we work. However we see ourselves, it doesn’t give us the right to invade other people’s space in a way that many would find threatening or offensive.

There are photographers who have made a career and a reputation for themselves by doing so, and I feel very uneasy at looking at the work of one or two well-known photographers.  Perhaps those images made by pushing a camera (and often a flash as well) into people’s faces may be powerful, but I’m not sure we should reward them for doing so. It seems to me to be using people rather than photographing or recording them. It makes me feel a bit soiled looking at it.

Of course we should be able to photograph people on the street, and there is a great tradition of work – some of which Armor mentions – of doing so. Truly the world would be the poorer without it, and it is something that is under threat.

I’ve been able to watch a number of fine street photographers at work, and also to see videos of others, and they really don’t look like the guys in that film. Of course it’s possible to edit and select when making videos, and the commentary certainly does them no favours, but it still looks pretty creepy to me. With most good photographers they kind of blend in and few of those they are photographing or the people around notice, well a few making it so obvious and confrontational that

I’m not at all sure how we should go about fighting this war, but perhaps we might start by being less confrontational rather than imagine ourselves fighting with the infantry.

When I’m challenged about why I’m taking pictures I try to be pleasant, smile, be friendly and explain and avoid argument. Having a press card can be an advantage (though it can make things worse and I sometimes keep it in my pocket, remembering the example of the great ‘Eisie‘ telling people on the streets he was ‘just an amateur‘.) Handing out my business card has sometimes helped.

When I did work that was more ‘street’, I used to carry a small album with some of my pictures, much easier than trying to explain in words. Nowadays it would be easy to make a little book on Blurb or some similar site, and a thin 18x18cm publication would take up little space in most camera bags and perhaps be a little more impressive.

But I’ve occasionally met disturbed men (and women) too, and situations have got a little out of hand. I’ve sometimes just walked away, other times offered to call the police, and a couple of times been very relieved when the police have arrived.

But your opinions and experience are – as usual – welcome, though if you have not commented on this site before they may take a little while to appear.


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