Yesterday our friend Kirk Tuck posted a characteristically thoughtful and humanistic look at the practical ethics of street shooting. He advocates awareness of the law, but also a sensitivity to the "social contract" by which we all get along. A nice article.
I have only one comment...I'm still curious about how it would work to offer to pay people extemporaneously to pose for you, or at least to ignore you while you take a few pictures.
I remember once trying to photograph a fisherman at the Tidal Basin in D.C. He noticed me, shot me a dirty look, and turned his back, so I walked over and asked if it was all right if I took some pictures. I definitely do better when I have permission, that much I've learned.
He glared at me. "No," he said, flatly.
I skulked away, tail betwixt legs.
I've always wondered what he might have done if I had said, "How about for five bucks? You don't have to do anything but ignore me, and I'll only take five minutes."
Given that I've been wondering about this general idea for twenty years, you'd think the best way to test it would be just to try it sometime. But I've never gotten around to it. I still wonder how it might work.
(Thanks to John Roberts)
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Joe: "Barely related: my wife and I were walking in Brooklyn a few years ago when we saw workers replacing the street signs on our street. What a great souvenir, we thought, and we stopped and asked a worker if we could take one of the old beat up signs that were headed for the dump. Sorry, no. We walked away disappointed but then it suddenly dawned on us: Wait a minute; this is Brooklyn. We turned and went back and asked, How about for ten dollars? Done deal."
Featured [partial] Comment by charlie: "If someone is upset and asks why you just took their photo without asking, don't wave the copy of "the photographer's rights" you carry and demand you are within the law to do it, just politely explain what you are doing and why you think you might have just made an interesting photo. Digital makes it easy, as you can show them the crappy photo you just snapped. Most people are flattered and will wish you well in your silly endeavor. It's fine to know your rights, but it is far more important to know your boundaries and to show respect when photographing in public, no matter what genre you shoot." [See charlie's entire comment in the Comments section —Ed.]
Featured [partial] Comment by Michael Farrell: "Out in the public sphere, we should all be tolerant and respectful. An art-focused picture-taker is less bothersome than a heedless cell-phone gabbler, yet some citizens feel they have the right to assume dudgeon and try restricting a photographer's freedoms. For me, these busybodies are the true breachers of the so-called social contract, even if they fail to see the irony in that." [See Michael's entire comment in the Comments section —Ed.]
Featured Comment by Mike Plews: "There was a program on Ovation about Albert Maysles. They followed him out on the street where he walked up to people saying 'you have a nice face, can I take your picture?' It seemed to work pretty well. I don't do personal street photography myself. I'm a working news photographer and by the end of the day I would rather interact with trees than people. In fairness, I do get to meet some really wonderful people in this work but striking a balance is tricky. How do you come up with a set of standards for photographing Desmond Tutu one day and a serial killer that prefers children the next? It will send you straight to church with your head spinning."
Featured Comment by Bryan: "I saw that article and really enjoyed it, mainly because I end up in a ton of pictures. I kayak on Lake Superior just outside the harbor of my hometown almost every day during the summer. I live in a tourist town and the harbor and the rocky point surrounding it are a major tourist destination. During a typical paddling trip, I'll notice at least one or two people trying to take my photo. When I notice them, they quickly hide their cameras and then try to take a picture when I'm not looking. I think it's pretty funny, so I wave and yell, 'Hi, Mom!' It's even more fun when the waves are up. People just don't expect a kayaker to be out on the big lake in 6-foot waves. That's when everyone seems to pull out cameras and they don't even try to hide them."