testing the theory

The business of taking street photos was an interesting one.  I spent a lot of time trying to be very unobtrusive, mixing images of people with images of buildings and rivers.  My instinctive starting point was that I shouldn’t interrupt the person in the moment, that they should be unaware and undisturbed.  And I reasoned that if I misjudged that and they did notice or mind, I would apologize, delete, or show them the photo and offer to send it to them.  I was making it up as I went along.  Many a photo was missed because I didn’t dare.

When I got home, there were very few pictures that I liked.  Most were deleted before they came off the camera card.  Many more went when I looked at them more carefully.  I had no real criteria for this.  Some of them just felt wrong.

I was left with two.  Our woman in Red, and an older man who caught my eye as he came up from the metro (lets call him Blue).

That night, I chose to post her, and leave him alone. In retrospect, I think it was because — for all that one might read tiredness or sadness or concern into her position — she struck me as universal.  With him, it felt more personal.  As much as I liked the photo, I wasn’t sure it was right.

And then, having posted her on blog and facebook.  I took her down — swayed by a friend’s concern, the open questions of what was right.

Then, obviously, I reversed those decisions to push at the boundaries of understanding.  Here is where I stand right now:

  1. I realise that I kept the photographs that I liked.  I liked the colours, the lines, the shapes.  And crucially, I liked what I saw of the person.
  2. I deleted the photographs that I didn’t like.  Sometimes this was about background or blur, but mostly, it was about my sense of the person.  If I was left feeling cold, or ambivalent — if the moment I caught made me or the other person seem less human, then it went quickly into the bin.
  3. I realised, therefore, that I thought street photographs were OK if they somehow felt incarnational — embodying something of the goodness, truth or beauty of the human condition, and something of God’s love, even if the moment caught was one that might (might!) speak of sorrow, weariness, or indecision.  Humanity is not diminished by the presence of pain.  The more I look at our woman in red, the more I like her, and the more I see her strength and beauty, whatever else may be going on.

I know this is terribly subjective, and there is not, as yet, a coherent ethic here.
But I can live with that.  Ethics are rarely black and white, and struggling for a coherent position is part of the process.  The only way to get there is to test and talk and try.

There’s one more post in this, I think.  But I shall stop here for now.

4 thoughts on “testing the theory

  1. I agree that it is very subjective. I mean, photography is subjective, and that includes street photographs.

    You said: “I realised, therefore, that I thought street photographs were OK if they somehow felt incarnational — embodying something of the goodness, truth or beauty of the human condition, and something of God’s love, even if the moment caught was one that might (might!) speak of sorrow, weariness, or indecision. Humanity is not diminished by the presence of pain. The more I look at our woman in red, the more I like her, and the more I see her strength and beauty, whatever else may be going on.”

    Wow, I never really thought about it (street photograph) this way. I think my ‘definition’, and the way I look and feel of street photographs, are much simpler :D…

  2. And your photographs are probably much better for that!

    It’s the danger of being a priest and being in the habit of contextual theology. Everything has meaning (and can get complicated, fast.)

    thanks for joining in.

  3. One of my contacts on blipfoto.com (Scottish daily photo site, I like it a lot) is taking a lot of street portraits, she was asking similar questions to you but is now just going up to people and asking them if she can take their picture, with some absolutely fantastic results. If they say no she shrugs and waits for someone else. I don’t think I’d be that brave (and knowing me I’d also take the ‘no’ really personally)! They’re very different from the candid, more natural shots you have here though.

    I don’t mind the thought of being in someone’s tourist shot (I don’t rush to get into the picture, and if they’re obviously taking a picture of a particular view or landmark I stand out of the way, but if I happen to be part of the overall scene when I’m walking past then that’s fine), and have often wondered (particularly when looking at photos of my own which feature random strangers who happen to be walking past at the time) how many albums over the world my face features in. I think, when I look at those strangers in my photo, how I have no idea who they are but God knows them, as well as she knows me – that gives me a sense of wonder that is all too rare these days. It gives me a sense of connection with the world that I also get through the liturgy/lectionary.

    I think I’d have a few no-no rules, obvious ones like not taking pictures of children (they might be cute, but I don’t want to get hit/arrested!). If I saw an interesting shot like Red I’d probably take it and do what you would – if she noticed, talk to her about it, show her the picture, offer to delete it or send her a copy, but not necessarily ask her permission first (which I think would change the whole dynamic of the picture).

    I guess as public photography isn’t illegal and you are in a public place, then there is always the potential for your picture to be taken. And who knows how many CCTV images of us there are all over the place that we have no idea about! So I can’t get too worked up about appearing unknown in a stranger’s photo – which probably makes my reluctance to ask someone about being in my photo all the more bizarre!

    Sorry, lots of rambling here – it’s a fascinating subject with lots of tensions/contradictions.

  4. Interesting, not rambling. (or interesting rambling, perhaps, and that’s OK) I agree about the CCTV thing. I would much rather we collectively put energy into reducing the CCTV images taken, and leave the street photographers alone.

    I envy, slightly, the people who can say yes to your friend quite happily. Although I approve of the theory, I still freeze if I know someone is taking my photo, with dreadful results.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s