Street photography ethics are getting beyond silly...

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, May 3, 2013.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/the_ethics_of_street_photography/

    and, I don't know if anyone has watched this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB_NA8kLDII
    Long, but well worth it.

    I personally think that JM Colberg's entry is pretentiously contrary. The problem is the general public and public spaces, not photographers and their twisted ways. I don't buy Colberg's 'art photography is niche' argument. Documenting the times we live in is beyond the question of art. Being witness to human history is critical, regardless of our ridiculous, unfounded collective sensitivities - which in our culture are almost entirely influenced by the media, and their insistence on filling us with fear about community monsters (a pedophile every 6 feet is it now?). Celebrity culture too has one of the biggest impacts on people's paranoia about being photographed, and we have a warped, fantastical idea about what our privacy really is/means. 'Public spaces' exist purely as thoroughfares for consumerist madness - most people simply want to get from shop A to shop B without interference. I feel as though photography today (and traditional photography especially) has the potential for an eruptive anti-capitalist streak.

    I've not had many confrontations when photographing people and I usually ask, even if they're off some way in the distance - for me it's only usually one or two people interacting with a scene. Every time I see someone taking pictures in cities or towns (if I'm walking from shop A to shop B myself :wink:) I get this urge to turn away or walk behind them - which is mad, being a photographer myself - so I feel as though I (and we) have a unique perspective in that sense, knowing this fear comes from a contradictory, and I'd argue, irrational place. I'll be making a point of being reciprocal with other street photographers in the future.
     
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  2. batwister

    batwister Member

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    There's kind of an implication in Colberg's article that only art photographers (working within the genre of street photography, whatever that is anyway) are at biggest 'risk' photographing the public. So it becomes a strange witch hunt against people with cameras that look 'arty'. Do we need 'iPhones only' signs on the street? Because I have one, and I'd be taking exactly the same pictures.
     
  3. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    Just how closely did you read the article? Nowhere does he say "documenting the times we live in is beyond the question of art." He says the exact opposite:

    "street photographers better tell the public how what they’re doing is not only mindful of the public’s concerns, but also constitutes an important and valuable artistic practice that enriches not just the practitioners’ but everybody else’s lives." Bold added.
     
  4. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Sorry, it's my wording that's the problem. 'Documenting the times we live in is beyond the question of art' was my statement. Should have been a full stop before it.

    He emphasises the value of the art of street photography in the article, which I agree with, but I don't think there should be any question from the public about artistic intent or otherwise. The 'suspicion of intent' comes up in the linked video with David Hurn and co. That is the source of the problem really - what the image is for, where it will be used, how the subject will come across, yada yada. As long as the subject isn't doing anything ridiculous or criminal (which they shouldn't be in a public space), there is no risk of 'defamation'. So the use of their image isn't of their concern - unless they just can't handle being camera shy. The point of my 'beyond the question of art' thing, which David Hurn puts better in the video, was whether the public likes it or not, there is more an historical importance to images of public life which overrides the suspicions and unease of the people being photographed.
     
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  5. ambaker

    ambaker Subscriber

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    I very rarely do street photography. For that matter I seldom photograph people.

    However, when we are out in "public" we can rest assured our images are captured over and over. From security cams, to cell phones, the street photographer is the rarest of our captured likenesses. For reference, the Boston Marathon Bombers were captured over and over on a multitude of imaging devices.

    When I see a street photographer, I simply continue on with what I was doing, or get out of their frame, if I am blocking their view of what they wanted to photograph.

    Now the people who interrupt my dining experience with video and flash photography, I usually assist by giving them a big smile and wave. Even a "Hi Mom!", for the videos... Then they can forever wonder who I am. (Dear, he must be on your side of the family... I don't know him.)


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
     
  6. Colin Corneau

    Colin Corneau Subscriber

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    That's the irony of the current fear-hysteria over "privacy" and a photographic boogeyman behind every lens -- the same people are either wholly ignorant or wholly uncaring that their public images are recorded surreptitiously on a nearly-continual basis by people with FAR more sinister motives than a street photographer's dedication to documentation.

    I'd rather contribute to a street photographer's contribution to art or the public dialogue, than some shadowy marketing agency or security apparatus selling my image for profit or oppression.
     
  7. Jim Christie

    Jim Christie Member

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    Not so mad or irrational. I had a small test of my own convictions just recently. We took a trip to Paris a few weeks ago, and one evening we made some time to visit the galleries at the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation. My 6 yr old daughter, who loves to draw and often carries a small sketch notebook, quietly began to draw a still-life photo that was on display. The gallery was crowded, and at one point I noticed someone lurking behind a display intently watching my daughter and with a camera out and ready. I found myself instinctively moving in between them (on two occasions) to block the shot. That was all there was to it – he got the message and moved on, but it got me thinking. The photographer side of me recognized that it would have been a great shot, but that was overruled by present day concerns (which you also touch on) like where will this photo appear, and what will it really be used for. Odds are, it would have been destined for something innocuous, but as a parent do I want to take that chance?

    Perhaps more than anything else, this change in distribution channels plays a large part in people's attitudes towards things like street photography. In Winogrand's day (and before), the main distribution channels for (non journalism) photography were books, galleries and possibly magazines. Very narrow by today's standards, and only a very few made it into any of these venues. Contrast that to the present day where Flickr claimed that have over 6 billion photos uploaded in 2011. In 1965, a candid shot of you on the street would likely remain in a shoebox. In 2013, you will almost certainly be on display for all to see. Couple that with the fact that many feel increasingly powerless in all aspects of life, and people start to lash out.

    I do quite a bit of street photography, and while I don't feel that I should have to justify or explain my actions to anyone, I am increasingly wary of who I photograph --I won't take one if I sense the subject doesn't want me to, and of course I'm careful not to photograph children. So, while I realize that I have the “right” to take a photograph in a public place, it does not mean I get to waive respect and courtesy to others (nor am I implying that Colberg or anyone here is suggesting otherwise). We are certainly living through interesting times.
     
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  8. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    I quote from the foot notes:
    THEN WHY ARE YOU COMMENTING ON IT?????

    I also have a couple of close friends who thought that George W Bush was an intelligent man...
     
  9. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    You nailed it, right there, 1000%. This is the world we live in. The internet changed everything for photography, and honestly I don't think most of it is good at all. Can't have our cake and eat it too. Yes, we did gain speed of access, convenience, exposure (in a good way, as photographers), but in return we received loss of privacy at every level, paranoia by those being photographed, extreme competition, loss of real world skills, and being bombarded by loads of junk that a mere 15 year ago would have indeed been relegated to a shoe box. There is sensory overload at every level and many are just getting fed up and lash out. Not surprising at all.
     
  10. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    often times when a photographer does street-work sHe has some sort of connection
    with the place sHe is covering. these days that is being done 24/7

    who needs street photography when we have these
    http://www.opentopia.com/hiddencam.php
    http://www.webcamgalore.com/EN/
    oh, i forgot to mention google earth ...

    it seems to be almost the end of an era.
     
  11. Ian Leake

    Ian Leake Subscriber

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    Taking a photo of someone when they're in a private moment is an invasion of privacy, even if they're in a public place. Intruding into their private moment so that they become aware that you're taking a photo is an even greater invasion of privacy. We may have the legal right to do this, but that doesn't stop it being an invasion of privacy.

    Personally, I believe that it would be a tragic loss if future generations are unable to see how people lived in 2013 because no-one made photos of strangers. This is one reason that I'm relaxed about people (or security systems) taking photos of me when I'm in public and I'm not aware that they're doing it.

    But once they've broken into my private moment, they've engaged with me, and I think different rules apply. Once I'm aware of them, I feel that I should have a choice about whether to take part in their photography or not. My choice is almost always no, but others may choose differently.

    I don't often shoot on the street, but when I do I treat others as I'd like to be treated myself.
     
  12. batwister

    batwister Member

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    As the subjects are of the same species, I would class capturing private moments (within reason of course) as faux pas. 'Invasion' is a very strong word. What about photographing gorillas in the wild? This is more of an 'invasion' since they aren't warned and don't have much of a say. Having curiosity about our own species is surely much more natural, since we understand each other better than we understand gorillas. Increasing reluctance to be photographed in the most mundane situations feels like some kind of tribal separatism. Backwardness. Inability to rationally assess threats. Maybe we need a new kind of community therapy:

    1. Spend 30 minutes with the group considering the meaning of the words 'privacy' and 'invasion'.

    2. How many times in the last week has somebody invaded your own or your family's privacy?

    3. Is your anxiety about privacy justified?

    4. Do you believe in the boogeyman?

    I think as photographers - innocent observers of human relations - we have a way of thinking outside the box which is of value today more than ever.
     
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  13. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I think you should first and foremost show a respect for individuals and if you are taking pictures that contain people this should be done in a way that doesn’t intrude their private space. For instance, when they are just figures within the framework of your composition, but not when they are doing something that could be personal to them at that point in time, like being sick or whatever. I also think in your face photography (which I understand some people do) is totally disrespectful to the individual. Perhaps a lot of paparazzi photography falls under this verboten heading.
     
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  15. Ian Leake

    Ian Leake Subscriber

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    OK, replace 'invasion' with 'intrusion'. The sentiment is the same. Just because someone has a camera doesn't mean they have a moral right to intrude upon another person's life. If a photographer makes a photo of me without me noticing then the intrusion is inconsequential and all's fair. But the d***heads who will fire a handheld strobe into someone's face at close range (as happened to me on Tottenham Court Road a while ago) are making a major intrusion. There are, of course, shades of grey in the middle.
     
  16. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Think these are bad? Can you say Google Glass?

    Lots of fistfights—or worse—coming in the near future, I fear. And if you think people are wary and fearful of your standard cameras now, just wait.

    Ken
     
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  17. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    Hi Jim,

    If you can repeat this situation again, now after some thinking - would you still do the same?
     
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  18. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    This Christmas I was given a pen. What was different about the pen is that it has a camera inside it. Yes, press the button, and you get a picture. You can even put it into movie mode, and it will record for over 1/2 hour. It looks like a pen. It writes like a pen. The same pen is sold under a number of different names, but it's the same product.

    Want to get paranoid? "OMG! HE JUST CLICKED HIS PEN!!" A 640x480 movie is pretty decent, and the audio is decent, too. Cameras in pens, cameras in watches, cameras that clip onto eyeglasses, where will it all end?

    Whatever.

    And people freak when somebody picks up a real camera.
     
  19. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    With a punch in the face. Or worse.

    Ken
     
  20. Paul Goutiere

    Paul Goutiere Subscriber

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    I guess if someone were to find my visage interesting enough to take a picture of on the street, I'd be OK with it.

    But that is me.

    If I were to take a picture of someone I'd really think it proper to ask permission and give an explanation of my
    desire to take that picture.

    Why not?
     
  21. Jim Christie

    Jim Christie Member

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    Yes, I would. Parent overrules the inner photographer every time. :smile:
     
  22. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    THAT GUY HAS A WRISTWATCH!
    THAT GUY HAS A PEN IN HIS POCKET!
    THEY'RE TAKING MY PICTURE!
    KILL! KILL!! KILL!!!

    Yeah, right. No wonder "artists" are using Google street view to do their "photography." And the wristwatch is a 12Mp still camera with HD video.

    So far, nobody has complained about my and my Graflex Super Graphic. It's bug-eyes, "huh?," "Is that a Hasselblad?," "How many megapixels is that?," and "Can you still get film for that?"
     
  23. photopriscilla

    photopriscilla Member

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    I think that times have changes and that we need to be aware of the personal space of others. We are constantly being observed whether it is by a store video camera buying cheese or walking into a making a personal deposit in our bank. I think that people need to give each other a break from the barrage of cameras and videos. It has nothing to do with capitalism.
     
  24. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    I was struck the other day by this photograph. Nobody in that tight, cramped public setting is paying the least bit of attention to the photographer. And the photographer is covered head-to-toe with obvious camera equipment. No hidden snapping going on here. No secretive smart phone or Google Glass. And yet, not a single glance up by any of the background subjects. Amazing by today's ubiquitously paranoid standards.

    Times have certainly changed.

    Ken

    P.S. Welcome to APUG.
     
  25. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I think that some people who comment on street photography MO don’t really appreciate what it involves. I can’t really describe what I mean in words, but some may understand.
     
  26. viridari

    viridari Member

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    If someone takes your photo in the street and you punch them for the intrusion, it's not the photographer that's getting arrested.

    I'm not as active as some people here, and I don't have the benefit of being in a big city (Raleigh truly is a small town), but I've never had more than a couple of dirty looks cast in my direction. The police are the worst. If they see a camera aiming at them, that is.