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Monday, 14 January 2008


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Nice piece, Mike.

Looks like Teddy is a little shy; great shot of Charlotte.

It seems to me that figuring out who I am and who I am not is the major thing actually happening in my life.

When I was young, I thought that I was what I was and that was immutable. That caused me, and all too often, those around me, unnecessary pain. I've since discovered that the process of becoming myself involves changes in the apparent me as I move towards more authenticity.

Like your friend, I never took pictures of people other than family. I can remember waiting, sometimes a long time, for all the people to get out of the way of the vista, building, whatever.

Then suddenly, last Fall, there I was taking pictures of strangers on the street like crazy - and enjoying the process and the results. Go figure. http://galleries.moosemystic.net/Brooklyn/People/index.html

Back then, I would have done just what you did at the Wall. Now, I would probably take the shot, then offer to send a copy to the family. Not as shy as I used to be.

Will I be taking more street pics of people? I dunno. The more I realize I'm just along for the ride; just sit back and enjoy it, the better it gets.


Ah, yes. Ah yes.

Well done. I believe the picture in your mind is probably more powerful as a result of not taking the film record.

Well said.

They are indeed crucially important issues.

Last year, I witnessed someone in the few moments before and after they jumped from a bridge to their death. I had a camera around my neck and a phone in my pocket. I used the phone to contact the emergency services. I forgot all about the camera, but I have the vision of the fall, and her sad young face, indelibly imprinted in my memory, just as if I had made the photographs. I feel no regret that I didn't.

The issue brings to mind the sad case of Kevin Carter, who took the terribly moving photograph of the starving child, crouched and dying in the dust, while a vulture lies in wait just behind. Kevin's subsequent suicide has been attributed either wholly or in part by his guilt at winning the Pulitzer for his photograph. The issue is complex, but there certainly seem to be other factors at work.

I for one, am very glad he was able to take that photograph, and that photographers other than me, the Stoddarts, Natchweys, and the Meislas' can do it. Someone has to.

The picture wasn't lost at all. You were just meant to put into words as you just did so beautifully.


This is a great story, Mike. I do a lot of shooting down in the, um, less upscale (?) part of Vancouver, and always try to avoid taking pictures of the residents. They've got enough trouble without some jerk with a camera making yet another cheap "Oh, look at the suffering poor" shot.

There's one aspect of your story, though, that seems worth considering (and I'll bet you have over the years) - imagine what a gift your photo of the event would have been for that family. All of them gathered together, maybe never to be so again....

Well, you didn't get that picture, but you got the words and they were powerful in themselves. I was touched by your story.

The Wall, as you well describe, can have amazing affects on people. Speaking as a near-athiest, I've had a religious experience there, that was no less in magnitude than one experienced at St. Francis' tomb in Assisi, Italy. In each case, it resulted from observations of people clearly in trance-like states, communicating personally with loved ones. I, too, would not have 'invaded the picture' before you.

Mike - I've got to say that, given the same situation, I would have done exactly as you had. There are just some things that are part of one's makeup and upbringing. I, for one, applaud your decision.


P.S. - Good thing I didn't try photojournalism as a career either.

We'd all like to think that we too would've taken that particular shot, that once in a lifetime magic opportunity- like the time the door on the far end of the subway car slowly opened to reveal the legless man of quite intensity come rolling down the aisle on a skateboard, the countless legs of fellow commuters framing either side, money ladened hands gracefully reaching down towards him. I had never experienced the hushed solemnity that one man evoked on that crowd anywhere- let alone in a subway. And never had I ever seen hardened, jaded New Yorkers give so freely without so much as being asked. All I had to do was go tummy down on the floor with my 20mm and take it all in as he approached. The shot was coming right towards me, and camera in hand, I could see that final, masterful print in all its monochomatic glory!

Catch the moment (maybe), ruin that most rare and reflective moment of humanity for all concerned- definitely.

Although I am uncomfortable photographing people without express permission, I do so from time to time. It's not for me to photograph unfortunate folks who can't reject the opportunity to be photographed, such as homeless or otherwise extremely poor people. I also won't photograph a child without the explicit or implicit permission of the parents. I can relate to what you've written here and can imagine feeling the same discomfort with "intruding" on the family scene you described. Pretty sure I would have missed the chance as well. I don't think such things are wrong, just not for me. I enjoyed this piece. Thanks, Amin



Great essay. Your description of the scene not captured brought tears to my eyes. I find it interesting that you could watch this live and not feel invasive but couldn't release the shutter. Perhaps you also had preconceived thoughts that the shot, if taken, would have to be shared with the world?

I think I have a similar constitution regarding photography and the privacy of people in public. But I'll confess to challenging myself on this point at times. As a result, I think some of my shots I like best have come while in an uncomfortable setting. So perhaps part of improving as an artist is pushing past one's own comfortable boundaries?

Thanks again for the great essay and for the great blog.


Thanks for the article Mike. It reminds me of a recent piece that I heard concerning television "journalists". It was the story of two competing local tv stations and what they will do to get the big scoop. The reporter and producer from one station decided to wait to get all the facts before airing a story that had the potential to ruin a man's life and reputation. The reporter and producer from the competing station decided to air the story and in the end they really trashed the guy's life.

The most disturbing part of the piece was that when the producer who made the call to air the story was interviewed years later, he had no regrets over what they had done. He effectively admitted that in the name of ratings, anything goes. His rubric was the supposed safety of our children.

The respect you showed for the family in distress is admirable. After all, you didn't say that anyone in the frame was a public figure that would have been a newsworthy subject aside from the image.

A very interesting piece. I have been a professional photographer for about 12 years but also grew up with a professional photographer Dad.

I went to the Galapagos about 10 years ago and spent almost two weeks sailing around, shooting these moonscape type scenes and various rare and unique wildlife. Something was missing for me. It was that trip that made me realize that it is people that I love to photograph.

I haven't necessarily thought about it enough to define why, but I think it has to do with the convergance of people in a certain place and time - the nostalgia of knowing a certain moment will never occur again. Knowing that the image I made will carry its own varied sets of meanings for those that view it.

As a reaction to my time in the Galapagos, I spent a couple weeks in Cuba back in 2001. I found exactly what I was looking for and learned a great deal about who I am as a photographer. It was a defining moment for me - my version of your experience.

I think as people and as photographers, we gravitate to areas that give us a 'competitive advantage' - even if only doing it for art or fun.

I don't have the patience to be a landscape photographer or to work in a studio with still life. I don't have the skill set or desire to delve into the minutia of technical detail necessary for some areas - like analyzing bokeh! But I do have the ability to approach and interact with people and put them at ease in my presence as a photographer. So that is where I think I can do my best photography.

great essay! I used to be just like you in your story. I remember many great photographs that I did not take, and often dream about them in my sleep. I changed a lot recently and now I would make that photograph without second thought. I still have problems though. Often something great happens in front of me when I do not have a camera with me and I have it pretty much all the time. Like a couple that was kissing each other with a passion for a good three minutes in a cafe where I photograph people all the time. And I left camera in the car because it was late and dark. Or I am not fast enough to respond to action. I see a lot of learning to be more instant ahead of me.

Well, Sartre said "hell is other people". And when you're a very sensitive person, it does feel like that from time to time. Not because you feel rejection towards them but quite the opposite. I think inner turmoil is more like it. And I'm shy with people too, and I can't photograph people (not in the way I'd like). Mmm, this day is starting kinda thick!
We are the "Catcher in the rye" kind of people, may be?

If we shoot people, we develop our own set of guidelines and this applies to friends and family as well as strangers. Try taking formal and informal shots of your teenage daughter's dance team on a regular basis.

It boils down to the difference between honoring the subject and exploiting it. How would the subject feel if a large print was displayed in a public venue?

The issue of being fully in the moment when something extraordinary happens is clearly compromised when you focus a portion of your attention on capturing it. That's a separate question and one which I find difficult to balance.


Interesting story indeed. I think as creative people, we seek the boundaries of our own creativity or our desire to create. A large part of art/creativity is intent. Sometimes intent is the only thing that separates the value of one piece from another. If you are not comfortable with the intent of what you are doing, then why do it? I don't carry my camera around with me for street photography because I don't think I would be good at it. I have a very difficult time taking someone's picture without their permission - It gives me the sense that I am stealing something. So I don't. Why force it? There are no shortage of people who can do that sort of thing, much more skillfully than I.

I find my strengths and I focus on that. I work on becoming even better at what I am naturally good at instead of being good at something I am not naturally comfortable with. Maybe that is not good for an artist or someone attempting to be one, but ultimately I don't think a person's artistic development has to be this process of poking at everything, sometimes it's simply identifying what you like and who you are and exploring those infinite possibilities.

You shouldn't regret not taking the picture. Even if you gave them a print, ultimately you would be doing it for your own gratification, and maybe you're just not comfortable with that.


"And whatever else it does or doesn't take, photojournalism requires a burning drive to get the shot—you need to have a certain boldness, a higher loyalty to getting the picture than to acting with the utmost civility."

Mike, I appreciated your essay, having felt similar reluctance to photograph in public places. Sometimes I have overcome that reluctance, at "cruise ins," where I and others were admiring old, well-preserved, or exquisitely modified old cars, or at a county fair, for example, where people were enjoying the rides, corn
dogs, and families, relaxed or stimulated, awed or animated, as they took in the "midway." Still, I find myself returning to the sentence above, wondering especially about "the utmost civility" phrase and its rhetorical implications or intended or accidental "intentions" on readers reacting to your decision. Would the choice to make the picture have been incivility, something a little short of trash talk or deliberately letting doors close in people's faces? Does the answer depend on whether you could have made the photograph without their knowledge? Does the answer depend, to some degree, on what you did with the photograph immediately afterward, saving the "capture" personally, privately, as you have the memory, perhaps until now, or indeed, for fame or profit, running it in The Washington Post?

This is clearly a small point, I suppose,in an otherwise compelling piece, the sort of writing and insight we've come to expect from your writing and from T.O.P. overall.


"If you saw a man drowning and you could either save him or photograph the event...what kind of film would you use?" - anonymous

I used to do nature photography because I disliked shooting people; not because I felt they were a lousy subject, but because I just didn't like *doing* it. Now it's about all I do, but the subjects are familiar and (mostly) friendly (only occasionally grumpy). And I'm getting a bit bolder about photographing strangers with practice, but it's not something I push.

I can respect your decision. Until a couple years ago, I would have certainly done the same. Today, I can't say, I'd have to be there to know for sure. (Of course, I have no idea what I'd actually *do* with such a picture).

Your essay reminds me of a class (elective) I took in college ... journalism 101. The teacher was a local paper editor and he told us the #1 requirement for being a journalist is intense curiosity. The rest of the semester, it was an interesting class, but at least I knew on day 1, I was never going to be a journalist.

Mike --

Thanks for yet another thought-provoking piece. As someone who regularly photographs people on the street, sometimes with their permission and sometimes without, I find myself constantly bumping up against similar questions. My tentative conclusion is that while accusations of exploitation are easy to make, the issues are much more complicated.

This is how I choose to think about the experience you shared, which you may or may not agree with. It is not principally a moral dilemma. Each of us is different. And we are defined as much by the photographs we "take" as by the ones we choose not to. So, the Mike who chose not to take the photograph at the Vietnam Memorial that day is also the Mike who takes wonderful, intimate pictures of people he knows (as in the above examples). Perhaps the existence of the one enables the existence of the other -- or maybe not.

My concern, arising in part from some of the other comments, is that moral judgments are being made about your choice -- that your decision not to take the photograph that day was the morally correct one. Whether that is "true" is an extremely difficult question, and one that I believe is ultimately unresolvable, at least on a universal level. My goal is simply to reach a decision that I, as someone who tries to behave ethically in all aspects of life, can live with.

For instance, no easy answers come from applying the non-denominational "golden rule" (do to others as you would like done to you) to your situation. While some may find it objectionable for others to photograph them (even at a distance) at such a moment, others may not. I, e.g., do not believe that I would mind, so long as the photographer is not in my face. I believe that when I am in a public place, I will be seen (and often recorded), and my right to not be seen (or recorded) is quite limited.

Anyway, just some random thoughts. Again, thanks for a really terrific piece.

(PS - Maybe TOP should be renamed "The Thoughtful Photographer" ...)

I had a similar dilemma a few months ago while I was at a political event (local election party). The venue was a bar stuffed with people, TV crews, and of course their supplementary lighting. Before the event started, I was snapping pictures of people here and there. The big flash on my Pentax made me look like some kind of freelancer, and nobody really minded the intrusion. After all, it was chock-full of other medias anyway, so this was as public as could be.

Because of the heat generated by all these people and equipment, someone passed out at the bar. And not just passed out: fell flat on her back from her barstool. "Is there a doctor in this room?" was solved in maybe five seconds, 911 was contacted twenty times by different cellphones, and I had my Kodak with me.

So I gathered my work as a Samaritan was not necessary, and decided to see what it tastes like to take incident pictures. I was 3m away from the commotion. I raised my camera, aimed more or less, snapped, lowered it. Nobody punched me, nobody bothered me, but I felt dirty inside.

It's a decent photo, I think it expresses what it represents nicely and succintly. But something felt wrong, because I was under the impression that I was exposing someone's intimacy. I never post that picture on the internet, and just showed it to a few close friends for their opinion.

Perhaps it's because it wasn't my duty to take that picture, and because there was no audience that HAD to know about this. It wasn't newsworthy. This is not the Hindenburg, it's just a banal daily incident that was painful to a few people for a limited time. What would posterity care about it?

So by extension, I can wonder how people who report on really tragic incidents need to know where they stand ethically. Photographing disaster can be exploitative, but it can also be meaningful, if the intention is right, and if there is a purpose to present it to an audience.

The problem may be that a same picture can be both exploitative and meaningful at the same time.

You didn't need to take the picture. What you saw is higher than art.

Nice essay. I also find that I don't like trying to take a candid where I think it might be unwelcome. It feels intrusive in the way you described.

It really is very simple for me: if the positions were reversed, would I want some stranger taking my picture here/now? If the answer is no, then it seems that it would be morally wrong for me to take the shot.

Not that I feel I need to have the explicit permission of all subjects for my pictures! If you are dressed up funny, riding a bicycle on a parade route you've given me all of the permission I require to take your picture!

Entered a pie eating contest? OK, that's as good as a billboard saying "go ahead, shoot me".

Obviously other people see this privacy/intrusive thing differently or we would have few photos in newspapers (and no celeb magazines either ...).

Though I much like the thought of no more People, Us, National Enquirer, etc, I don't like the thought of a newspaper w/o photos, so I guess we get both.

- Severian

This story really resonates with me, for several reasons.

For one, I had a fairly similar experience at the VVM wall. In my case it was about ten years ago, so The Wall was not so new. On that particular day there were people around, but it was not crowded. I came upon a man in his 50s, leaning against the wall, head down, quietly in tears.

My first thought was that it was a moving scene. My second thought was that it was also something that's been seen a lot, and the world doesn't need another photo of a crying veteran at The Wall. (This was my first clue that maybe I shouldn't aspire to photojournalism -- another reason why your story resonates with me.)

Then I saw something else. Standing a couple of feet behind the man was a girl, about six years old, with blonde hair and a flowery sun dress. She was looking at the man with an expression of surprise, as if she'd never seen a grown man cry before and she didn't understand why this man would just burst into tears. She was a picture of utter innocence and naivety in a setting of gloom, sorrow, and rememberance.

That was the picture.

There are several layers of narrative you can apply to that scene, and they're all interesting.

But I still didn't take the photo, primarily because I don't have the instinct for imposing myself on people in such moments.

That was my second clue that I shouldn't aspire to photojournalism.

Great essay and something many of us wrestle with. I love taking pictures of people and do it all the time, on and off the job (I do marketing and photography at a school). On the job, I identify myself and ask permission before I start to shoot. Off the job, I generally photograph people only from behind or from a distance where the are unidentifiable unless I have implicit (meaning they are clearly aware of me) or explicit (meaning I've asked) permission--performances and political demonstrations being exceptions to this for me. That's where my comfort level is. However, there are photographers whose work I value and respect who have different rules for themselves than I do.

I'm sure there is a threshold where I would look at someone else photographing and think, "that's not right." I can certainly imagine situations that are on the other side of the line, but I'm not sure I know precisely where the line is.

I always take the picture if I have a camera with me because I hate regretting not shooting something in front of me. One of the worst feelings is knowing I didn't press the shutter button when I could have.

To share or not to share is the question I struggle with over and over, so I am obviously not cut from the photojournalist cloth.

My photographs are made by me, for me. Call me selfish, but I photograph the world to help me remember.

Ask yourself who are you shooting for. Then you'll know if you should press the button or not.

I agree that TOP ought to be renamed The Thoughtful Photographer. That's why I like to visit the site every day.

Just to give a bit of a spin to the comments, can I pose the question: "What kind of photographs do people like to look at" instead of coming at if from the photographer's point of view.

We were at a show recently in Toronto (http://www.worldheritageproject.com/bharatgallery.asp) where there were about three dozen beautiful pictures of India. There were several photographers exhibiting and there were a mix of landscapes, portraits and landscapes with people in them.

As we toured around, my wife and I talked about the photos that really resonated with us and I was surprised to find that we were both drawn to the images that had people interacting with landscape, especially the Steve McCurry's. I'm not sure we're all that typical, but we postulated that maybe people really enjoy looking at other people. A beautiful landscape is fine as far as it goes, but people enjoy a good story and a good story needs a protagonist or two.

Are we typical? Do people enjoy images with other people more than landscapes?

The flip side of this question is this: "what do people want to hang on their walls"? Here, I think landscapes win out because of the decor factor. Art eventually has to come home and fit into the family room context. A nice landscape fits better with the barcalounger than pictures of street children.

If a photographer is equally adept at landscapes and street photography, which appeals more to the art audience? Which genre sells better?

Respect to photographing what one feels comfortable shooting is one of the main differences between a professional photographer who makes a living and one who fortunately can shoot at personal desire. many times have I been confronted with very uncomfortable subjects in very uncomfortable situations and light but you know that no matter what you hava to have the picture to take back to whoever is hiring you. This makes life harder but it also makes you a better photographer. Its like creativity gym.

Mike, not for posting!

Just to direct your webbrowser to this site:

A website dedicated to host pictures that were taken where photography is strictly prohibited. Nuclear installations airports, museums, live concerts etc. All the stuff we're not supposed to photograph.
Quite a nice idea, don't you think?

After a quick browse, the range of pictures is spread quite unevenly:

Only 3 photos so far tagged with "nuclear"

Most of them were taken in museums, where the rules don't seem all that strict after all.

Hope you enjoy!

Isn't BEING a celebrity also a sort of billboard saying go ahead, shoot me? These are people, after all, who live on publicity. They might not always want their picture taken in every situation, but when I see them preening on the runways at awards ceremonies for hundreds of cameras, it's tough to imagine them not liking it, generally. When I was at Dartmouth we would occasionally see J. D. Salinger in the local bookstore, but nobody ever spoke to him or asked him to sign a book, much less took a picture of him. His desire for privacy was very well known.

I see that in my piece I did use the word "wrong," which was sloppy of me. I don't really think it's a moral issue. I don't think it would have been MORALLY wrong in any way to take that family's picture. But civility and politeness are important in society, and I'm personally sensitized to other peoples' perceptions, maybe a little too much. Moreover, I would guess that what I was responding too was just MY OWN feelings--I imagined they would resent having their privacy imposed upon, and after all I was right there in front of them. I felt it would be conspicuous to raise the camera. But maybe they wouldn't have noticed at all--after all, they were all looking at their old relatives at the Wall, not at me.

I don't know. But I look at this as a moment of self-discovery more than a moral case with a clear right and wrong choice. I think either choice would have been perfectly defensible. I just made the choice I made, is all. I was finding out about my own temperament...which eventually helped me to understand what kinds of situations I need to be in to make pictures.

Mike J.

Brilliant Mike!! It´s these kind of essays which make come round here everyday. Paul

I think this is what makes photography such a great and diverse hobby. The fact that it is so personal and individual to the photographer.

Great article.
Gorgeous picture too.
There's nothing like the pure joy a child can express.

Mike, you were right, some memories don't need a camera to record them. Although I enjoy photographing people on the streets the line between observation and voyeurism is a fine one.


After reading the piece a few times I'm thinking you should have made the picture. You weren't violating anything if you executed it properly...even if you were reasonably close.

There are ways to defuse these moments if you have made a personal violation. The worst thing you can do is to scamper away. I shoot on the street all the time and I've encountered this a few times, as many of us probably have. Walking up to your subject and explaining yourself is a good start. If I had been in your situation, made a picture and then perceived a violation, I would have walked up to the people and told them it was an honor to witness that moment, that it touched me and thank you for your family’s sacrifice. Something like that and from the heart. Most of the time people will understand..off them your info so they can get a print. Obviously, you have to be very careful, it's a dangerous world.

I think many photographers make mistakes in that they really do try to steal those moments. I always try for stealth with clear contact at some point, usually after the picture has been made. Of course, depending on the situation. you have to gain experience and be just as good at making pictures as you are at recognizing breaches of etiquette. I believe it can be done. If it's an intimate image you just have to do this...a street image of a wider scene doesn't require it IMO.

Plus, if they don't realize that they are the subject then it means nothing until you start selling that image for multi thousands and it goes high profile. Most times this doesn't come into play.

Yeah, there are some ethical issues here but if you are committed to the street then you have to jump in deep or you will end up with marginal, tentative and possibly meaningless images. You can usually tell by looking at the work if the photographer is committed to his subject.

As for Bjork and the celeb issue. I have a great deal of respect for most celebs. I think it's a totally different ball game when folks are jumping out of the woodwork and snapping away to make pictures that are essentially ambush shots that really don't mean a damn thing/do a darn thing except drive the sales of newspapers and magazines. Sure, most celebs and publicists understand the value of free visibility and even questionable press. However, these ambush photogs just don't understand anything except their bottom line. Many of their subjects are people who are involved in making the art that we absorb. Can't we let them live their lives off the clock? I don't think that they are necessarily fair game.

This is something that needs to be examined carefully. When you see these guys ripping down the street on scooters and hanging out of cars while chasing these people you have to wonder where it should stop and why a set of consequences haven't been considered. There also seems to be a distinct difference between those celebs (brittney, paris etc.) that are after this type of exposure and those that aren't. I like what Bjork does and I don't care to take it any further than what happens when I press a button on my stereo or buy a ticket to a show.

If Bjork really did say that she didn't want to be photographed at that moment then it should have been respected. No?

You blew it, Mike, shoulda got that shot. The photographer's council has sentenced you to a trip through the hundred man spanking machine, prepare to crawl, prepare the boody balm.

: )
: (

Mike, excellent piece. Something I've thought about much. I make pictures of the things I love, but I most like people and yet do not like photographing strangers without permission. I would love to be a photojopurnalist, a witness, but have yet to be in a place where photographing does not feel invasive, to me at least.

Considering some of the posts above and the work of war photographers or those who work in (usually war torn) lands where people are poor, hungry and oppressed, I'm not sure where the line between the importance of communicating what is happening with the greater world is greater than respecting the individuals lives. Some of my favourite work from a recent B&W magazine was by a scottish photographer who had clearly spent time with his subjects before photographing them - perhaps that's the key.

Anyway, a valuable piece, Thanks.


The first photo of the little girl is good but the second photo by your brother is great. Love the expression of delight on your little cousins face. We now have a whole generation growing up that have always expected to see the picture right away, hard to get used to, but there it is. My grandchildren just don't understand why there's no pictures on the back of my OM when I'm shooting. I have let the five year old in the darkroom to see his picture come up in the developer, but the whole wonder of it all seemed to wear off in a short time. Sad really.

Thanks for another from the heart, Mike. I can certainly relate--I am reluctant to have strangers in the picture in even the most banal public situations. But that, like most of the responses here, regards situations when I am shooting for myself.

Which leaves me wondering if you think you would have done the same had you been in that place and time as a newspaper staff photographer, assigned by your editor to get some shots of people at the memorial for a Sunday feature? Do you think, in that circumstance, that you might have been emboldened to take the shot, identified yourself to the family afterwards and respectfully asked their permission to use the photo?

I often find myself photographing intimate situations with strangers. Whenever I move through hesitancy, speculation and fear, I find implicit inclusion in the event. I suppose experience helps in the decision to photograph or not, but really, I never know what someone else will think about being photographed. Often, the apparently "dangerous" situations I get thanked for photographing.

I want to photograph people and will use everything I've learned about relating to others to do that. If it's important for me to photograph intimate, vulnerable and sensitive moments between people and within an individual, then "You didn't need to take the picture. What you saw is higher than art." is the rationalization of cowardice. No big deal. Another opportunity for The picture will come around again and so will the opportunity to be confident and courageous. Anyway, it really is All Good.

robert e,
No doubt. If you're being paid your first loyalty is to your employer, within the bounds of the law and common decency.

I've even considered another question in the past couple of days: whether one reason I *didn't* take the picture was because the first thing that popped into my mind was "this could run on the front page of the POST tomorrow morning." As a photo student with no credentials and no connections, that probably wasn't actually true. Maybe part of what motivated my spontaneous decision was pre-existing anxiety over accomplishment and acceptance, something I've struggled with from a psychological perspective all my life. Perhaps if I had thought of the picture as something I wanted for myself, or (as several commenters have suggested) as something to give to the family, I might have had a very different reaction to the opportunity. It's at least possible that the instantaneous recognition of the shot as a *commercial* photojournalistic possibility was part of what made me uncomfortable with the situation and stayed my hand.

Mike J.

Photojournalists and Press photographers are concerned for the most part in reflecting history as it enfolds, with a view to those who will look back at the time depicted, as much as with getting the picture for tomorrow's front page. Many press photographers in your situation would have considered it a duty and an honour to record this event. One of the most imortant skills of a press photographer is to do their job with descretion. Personally, I'd like to think that, if was on the clock when this was happening I would have recorded the event. A well written piece on the sort of even that every photojournalist or press photographer will come upon in his or her career.

Hi Mike,

I personally agree with your point of view. I'd like to show you the work of a lady that loves to take pictures of her family. Almost all her pictures are like that. She still uses a Nikon FM with a 50/1.4 lens of the same vintage and, sometimes, a 105/2.5. Film is Tri-X in D-76, scanned afterwards.

Really, you could see love in her pictures. I strongly recommend you visit her site in Photo.net. It is this:

I apologize if this comment is out of place, but I think you'll like it.



Very nice. Thank you.

Mike J.

how (or why really) is it any more or less intrusive to have recorded the scene and shared it with all of the people on your blog, verbally, rather than photographically ?

Just something that occurred to me on the second reading. I feel there is a difference, but the same story has been shared. The same imagery imparted to the visitors to your blog, if the image had been taken or if it is described.

Standing watching, remembering. Standing watching, photographing. Why so different ?

Wow, what a story. Without a doubt in my mind, you did the right thing. It makes no difference at all if they would have minded or not. In your mind, it was disrespectful to do anything else, and instead of compromising your own integrity, you chose to do what you felt was right. How many of us can say the same thing. Well done, and as someone stated above, you painted a much more vivid picture with words than any film could have done justice to.

Yes Mike, vou've done it the right way. thanks for reporting this story (isn't reporting just another job of the photojournalist :-)? )

....i am for myself very impressed of photojournalism,too. But when i go out for a photowalk to shoot people or decesive moments mostly i am too shy to do, not because they can see me taking a photo but i think also about respect or if it can be compromising.....

mike, always a pleasure to read your posts. groove on :-)

Moved to tears by your words, very nice essay.

Two things come to mind that I constantly confront within my decidedly photojournalistic photography efforts: The belief among some South American Indian tribes that taking a picture actually captures a persons soul somehow, and the way that photographing a scene separates me from fully participating in the situation as an equal. The subtle guilt of the voyeur maybe and if I'm going to take the shot it's a dance I always have to do. It ends up being about relationship as much as anything else, to others, myself, the camera, the "shot", the goal, the audience, and there's always an art to relating. I think it's not what we do but how we do it that ends up being the most important.

Someone even devoted their own blog to the photos they have not taken...

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