80:8 Photography : Video : Sound : Bands : Portraits

Camera Phones – The only future for street photography

The ability to take photographs in public of people, is a debate that flares up every so often within pro-photography circles. Of course, the law, theoretically is on our side. If a person is in a public place, engaging in a public and visible activity, then they have no legal right to privacy. You can snap away. Unfortunately, the word of the law is one thing and it’s interpretation by both police and the general public is something else. I was photographing a demonstration a few years ago and one particular chap, waving a flag and obviously very passionate about his cause, was a fabulous subject. So I was snapping away, my eye glued to the viewfinder when he disappeared. Only to reappear at my shoulder bellowing at me, red in the face, demanding to know why I was taking photo’s of him. The answer of course was quite simple. He was a spectacle and he was stood in Market Street Manchester, which as far as I know isn’t someone’s living room. I’m calmly pointed this out to him, but was met with a barrage of abuse and demands to delete the photo’s. Which I refused to do of course. He moved away, but despite being notionally in the right, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth. And seconds later I noticed the police with their telezooms were all trained on me. Hmmmm….I felt uncomfortable. Now read the third sentence above. A-ha! Hypocrisy Alert!

I analysed my reaction, taking the fact that the photographers were police out of the equation. They had big camera’s, big zooms and looked professional. With the word professional, comes the notion that the photo’s are to be used for ‘something’. Whereas a dude with a phonecam or something is probably just taking snaps. So, I think the reticence of the general public to be photographed is all about that ‘usage’ concept. If I lurk around a corner with a hooting big 200mm zoom, attached to a camera the size of a house brick, then my usage is probably going to be for something other than a snap. And y’know – that’s right. I don’t have a sinister reason for taking the shot of course, but I do have a reason. For those of you who enjoy street photography – think about that reason. Think outside of yourself for a second and wonder whether you would be perfectly happy with that idea? I play the advocate of the devil here of course, but it’s worth thinking about.

Hence now, when in public places, I only point my ‘pro’ camera at friends, family and inanimate objects. Other times, I use my iPhone and hack ’em with PS Express like the photo shown here. Is it any less fun? No. Can I flog ’em to Alamy? Er, no. Am I betraying the pro-photogs? Dunno. Maybe. Not. Answers on a postcard.

Any yes, I’m fully aware of the paradox of public antipathy towards still photo’s and privacy, and that of the rise and rise of CCTV. Fish/kettle/bucket/frogs. Not going there. Meanwhile, enjoy!

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2 responses

  1. I’ve never had any trouble taking pictures in the street, but I feel that I should really only take pictures of people who are doing something like sport, dancing, singing, etc. Other than long shots, I don’t really take too many ‘normal’ street pictures. Not quite right really.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    • I’ve only had one or two occasions where I’ve experienced problems, but enough to make me think twice. Nowadays if I see someone interesting – I will ask them if the circumstances allow, but then of course that loses the immediacy. And yes, I agree that shooting people who are ‘doing’ something is the right approach, however, the guy waving the flag was also ‘doing’ something. What about a young couple leaning in to each other on a park bench? Lovely shot from behind, young love, gentle, beautiful. Right to take though? I can’t say – but for me, I wouldn’t.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm

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