Yes. The reason.
Photography lesson 2,365,897 and 2,365,898. Street photography. Documentary photography.
I see that there is a big discussion on Photo District News about a photographer team who stopped in a small town in West Virginia. They were practicing is what a lot of people call “Poverty Porn.” Stop into some poverty-stricken place and take pictures of poor people and things. There’s all kind of porn these days. There is the porn that you think of when you hear the word porn. There is food porn. You know, when people with smart phones just have to document their meal and post it somewhere. There is little kitten and puppy porn. The list is endless.
These two documentarians from Massachusetts driving a Volvo, (How stereotypical is that?) pulled into a little West Virgina town and started taking pictures of the town’s children without so much as a hello or asking if anybody minded. Short story. Things got so out of hand and potentially violent that the state troopers were called and had to escort the photographers past the county line. True enough, it does take two to tangle. The crowd demanded the photographers images. But, still…
Here’s my take.
In New Orleans, we call it presenting yourself. I make the kinds of pictures that I do of social club members and Mardi Gras Indians because I’m a known quantity. I’ve taken the time — over a period of three years — to introduce myself around. And, even if I’m unknown to the subject I always smilingly ask if they mind. I always say thank you afterward. Sometimes, in this digital age, I show them the picture on my cameras LCD. Today’s picture is an example of what happens when you do that.
This cat had no idea why I wanted to photograph him, but nodded okay. I tried to explain the background, but he wasn’t sure. I showed him his picture on the LCD. Now he got it. He started posing and smiling. We parted by shaking hands.
Today I was going to write advice to newer photographers. I was going to write something about not standing across the street and taking secret pictures with a telephoto lens. I was going to write about not sneaking around and taking pictures. I was going to say that the minute you point your camera at somebody the entire scene changes. So, you might as well work closer, talk to your person of interest and let him or her know that you mean no harm and that you are just talking pictures. I was going to say that if you have a business card give them one and promise to give them a print. Then, keep your promise. Always thank them.
But, then I read the PDN story. I thought to myself “those photographers are just rude jerks.” Generally, I always have my photo brothers backs. Not this time. They claim that they do it all the time and the 99% of the time nobody says anything. So what? That doesn’t make it right. Sure. There is no expectation of privacy in public place. That’s sort of the legal phrasing. But why can’t you just do the right thing and be human.