Photographs Never Taken…

The idea of street photography fascinates me, and I’d really love to build up my confidence enough to always have a camera on hand to capture the moment as those blink-and-you-miss-it shots arise in everyday life – I know that even my camera phone would do the trick. I often see something and think – that would make such a great shot – but nine times out of ten I’m too shy or embarrassed to stop, even momentarily, frame the image as unobtrusively as possible, and click the shutter button. Even when I do decide to go for it, more often than not I dither too much, take too long deciding, and often I find the moment has already passed.

I do feel a bit uncomfortable capturing people in such candid shots, and I know there are lots of rules and regulations about what is and is not permissible these days, but it’s quite hard – in fact nigh on impossible – not to have any people at all in shot when photographing in a big city. So surely it seems sensible to use that fact to your advantage, rather than trying to avoid the possibility altogether?

I’m definitely becoming a lot more daring when it comes to including members of the public in my images, but almost as anonymous bodies, included for balance and capturing a mood rather than as the main subjects in their own right. So I have lots of images of people’s back views, relatively unidentifiable but in real situations, and I suppose that compromise has to satisfy me for now.  river-ouse-yorkb&w

Nevertheless I have a growing ‘regret list’ of real-life, public-place photographs of people never taken, and here are my top five to date…

1. A rough sleeper curled up in the doorway of a church I once passed on my walk to work – in my mind’s eye I saw a black and white wide-angled shot, showing the huddled figure and the doorway and the steps and the long, early morning shadows, a graphic portrayal of sanctuary. But I felt uncomfortable at somehow benefitting from someone else’s misfortune, and the shot remained untaken…

2. A scaffolder at work in central London – teams of men work together in the cramped streets, passing each individual scaffolding pole up through each level manually, and one day I witnessed one taking the pole from the guy below him, then reaching up dramatically, scaffolding pole held erect high above his head, he shouted out ‘By the power of Greyskull, I am the power…’ in his best He-Man voice. Lots of passers-by looked up, and he laughed out loud, holding the pose momentarily for all to see. It would have taken me no time at all to point my phone and click, but for some reason I didn’t…

3. A cat on a leash out for a walk with his owner – in central London again – both strutting their stuff like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever as if they owned the place. I noticed both animal and owner walking towards me from quite a distance away, and was intrigued to see what small breed of dog had such supreme confidence – I was so surprised to see a cat I didn’t actually think to capture it on my phone…

4. A group of five workmen in yellow hard hats, heavy work-boots and bright orange hi-visibility vests, sitting in a row on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral eating their packed lunches in the sunshine. Their hard hats and vests marked them out from the more usual throng of tourists, and I skirted around them a couple of times trying to pluck up the courage to take the shot. But all of a sudden the sun went in, two of them put way their lunch and stood up to go, and the moment was lost forever…

5. A young couple saying a passionate goodbye to each other on the very crowded concourse of London King’s Cross Station. I was unsure about the legality of capturing such an intimate moment, but someone next to me walked directly in front of me, made a big show of framing her shot, and took several images from quite close up – with a very loud phone-camera shutter noise. And again I found the moment had passed, while I just stood there, watching, feeling very uncomfortable at the photgrapher’s obvious intrusion into that young couple’s very private, yet so public, farewell…

So if there are any street photographers out there willing to share their tips with me, please do feel free to suggest how best to approach what seems to have become quite a contentious topic. I do want to record public life in real time as I see it, but I also want to respect people’s individual privacy… Thank you for all potential advice and suggestions offered! 🙂

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