A recent comment from a fellow blogger questioning my habit of generally avoiding having people’s faces in shot in city scenes has highlighted a niggling issue that has always been a difficult subject for me – where to draw the line between capturing a candid shot and protecting an individual’s privacy when it comes to street photography?
To be clear, I’m not talking about paparazzi-style super-zooms virtually invading private spaces here – simply normal day-to-day pictures of people going about their everyday business in an everyday public place, images taken not for selling on but for personal perusal, and perhaps for posting here on my blog.
To date I’ve pretty much stuck with the personal maxim that if the people in shot are simply providing context – are no more than generic figures in the overall scene (like those images I posted yesterday in Street Photography: Stratford, East London) – then I prefer to maintain a certain level of anonymity, either through having them far enough away as not to be recognisable or alternatively have them facing away from me as I take the shot.
Alternatively, if I’m taking photographs in a more touristy environment (of which there’s plenty to choose from here In London), and the person is an integral part of the intended subject matter, then I tend to feel a bit more comfortable (or perhaps a bit less uncomfortable is a more accurate description) about having their faces recognisably in shot. So for example taking images of stallholders tending their market stalls poses far less of a problem to me than photographing the individual customers buying their products.
Street performers and the like I also consider to be ‘fair game’ when it comes to taking photographs in public, in the sense that visibility, being noticed by others is effectively what they are aiming for. Also here in London I would expect to take pictures of traditional Pearly Kings and Queens without causing a stir – they too are performing a public role while dressed in all their finery.
But where I come seriously unstuck is in taking candid shots of Joe Public simply being Joe Public. I love the idea of the sheer intimacy of such basic street photography but I’m confused at how it makes me feel. I often see the shots I want to take unfolding before me but just don’t seem to take them, out of some psychological sense of propriety or something equally… British… and it frustrates the hell out of me. Unguarded expressions can appear almost to expose the soul, and the possibility of unwittingly capturing such exposure unbeknownst to the subject makes me feel inherently uncomfortable.
And it’s this emotional discomfort that I struggle with so subconsciously when considering street photography. I’m sure eventually I’ll find my own way through, as ever, but in the meantime if anyone has any helpful advice or guidance to offer on the matter I’m open to all ideas… 🙂