street response?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by tilt-shift, Jul 12, 2004.

  1. tilt-shift

    tilt-shift Member

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    Was wondering how others respond to questions while you are shooting street scenes? I shoot a lot with a 4x5(tripod) and some handheld(35mm).
    If I say I'm a photographer they (person asking) want to know why if I'm doing it if I'n not getting paid, i.e commercial work is understandable. Trying to explain it's for an artistic endeavor always seems to come out stuffy or fake. I realize I'm not a verbal outgoing person, but would still like to shoot.

    Living in the DC area compounds the problem and everyone either thinks that I'm working for a terrorist organization (from Indiana) or that their work (human office slave) is actually top secret & my camera can see into their briefcase to see their yogurt leaking on their copy of "people". I get a lot of 'photography is illegal here' (I know it's not) etc...

    Any advice or personal examples of how to respond to inquiring passerby's would be very appreciated. Or how to deal with rent-a-cops that truly have no jurisdiction on the sidewalk outside their building. Thanks jeff :confused: :confused:
     
  2. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    I have only had three people approach me while photographing Downtown in my area.

    The first one was, to put it nicely, not the sharpest stick in the pile. I answered his questions politely and he moved on.

    The second one was an employee of one of the buildings that I was photographing. The building happened to be a restaurant and he thought that I was from the state health department gathering evidence to close them down. I explained to him that my hobby was photography and I was not out to close down the restaurant. Simply taking black & white "art" style photographs.

    The third person was a cleaning lady at one of the buildings. She was coming to work while I was photographing. When see got out of her car she saw me standing there and noticed the where she parked would be in my way. She got back in her car and move it out of the way. After finding another parking spot she came over to me and started talking. She made a comment about my beautiful camera (Zone VI 4x5) and asked a few other questions and finished by saying that she would love to see the photographs when finished. I told her that I would be happy to send her a print, so she gave me her bosses business card and ask me to send it there.

    I have found that most people just ignore me while photographing. But then again I live in Des Moines, Iowa :wink:
     
  3. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    With 35mm, I don't get much comments. I use old cheap rangefinders and am quick about taking the photos, so most people don't notice. The only ones who seem to say anything are old Navy Vets who used to use the same gear when they where in the service.

    4x5 is a different beast though. Most people just ask "Can you still get film for that thing?" (Course not! I'm just setting this big camera up to look cool) Using a Speed Graphic though, people usually just assume I'm doing what I'm doing for a very important reason and just stand a ways off and gawk. Those who do ask why I'm shooting whatever it is I'm shooting, I just tell them its for the town's historical record.

    A 4x5 or larger seems to be able to wield a lot of control over bystanders as well. Many uses.
     
  4. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    If truly inquisitive, I invite them to have a peak under the hood. That usually silences them as they cannot quite get over how large the view screen is or the left is right - up is down confusion. If all else fails, I just say "non parlo inglese".
     
  5. Magic Rat

    Magic Rat Member

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    When I lived in Riverside I used to go downtown to an old (somewhat famous in this area) hotel trying to get my chops down at night. Most people are courteous, some I have to keep an eye on till they go away. The hotel has a bridal window display that I like to shoot. If you'd like to see a bad pic do let me know. Security (guys in suits with wires in their ears) usually come out to "get a feel for me". When they or anyone askes what I'm doing (?) it never occurred to me to reply 'artistic endevour'. I just say it's my hobby and that seems to satisfy. But if someone asked me to move along then I'd move along. What do I care? I would guess if you don't seem suspicious (looking around like you just shoplifted something), are of middle eastern descent, or photographing a federal building you're probably safe.
    The Rat
     
  6. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Here in England the answer depends on my location.

    If in a residential area I say I'm working for an Estate Agent (thats a Realtor in American :smile:) and getting 'area' shots for prospective buyers. If in the centre of town I say I work for a big chain store looking for locations and if elsewhere I say I work for the Tourist Board.

    All seem to satisfy any curiosity! :wink:

    Andy
     
  7. Adrian Twiss

    Adrian Twiss Member

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    Street photography is getting more difficult these days. I was photographing in an Orchid House in Edinburgh (OK not, strictly speaking street photography) and a lady came up to me and asked me to stop photographing the children. I explained politely that I was, in fact, photographing the orchids and showed her my permit that the botanical gardens issue to prove it. She was not entirely satisfied and continued to give me suspicious looks. I will not pull out a camera with a long lens on the street now unless it is obvious what I'm photographing. Sadly the times we live in make street photography much more difficult. Even the most polite reasoning can't break down the barriers of suspicion. Sad but true.
     
  8. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    There are generally a few curious souls that come over and ask what I'm taking pictures of and whether I work for a magazine or something. I simply tell them no, I'm just an amateur. There have been a few more memorable occasions, though...


    Quite recently, during a frustrating attempt (hot day, lots of people about) to get some waterfall shots the icing on the cake was when one knuckle-dragger with a cheap compact digi-gizmo came up while I changing lenses and prodded at the F80 body on the 'pod saying, "That digital?" I said, "No" and he turned in disgust, stomped off and, in doing so, kicked the 'pod leg and nearly sent it (and the Nikon) down a fifty-foot drop! I, er... remonstrated with him at some length...! :mad:


    Last year while I was taking pictures in Wigan station (for the APUG anniversary, as it happens!) I got quite a lot of attention. Apart from a drunken Scot (is it the same one at every station (The Flying Scotsman?!) or do Network Rail have a large staff of them?) and several people wanting to know from where their train was leaving (man in casual clothes with camera, tripod and several lenses = station staff?! :rolleyes: I must have an aura...!) there was one slightly odd encounter.

    I'd set up the 'pod with the camera looking down a tunnel that ran under the tracks. The idea was to have everything in the shot pin sharp with one or more blurred figures passing through (one of my rare "artistic" moments!). To keep the action of taking a shot inconspicuous I ran a cable release down the 'pod leg and busied myself cleaning my gear as if I was still setting up, tripping the release as people passed by.

    During one of the gaps in the flow of people, a (let's be polite) 'large' woman walking slowly down an adjoining tunnel behind me stopped and called something out, a bit aggressively. I didn't quite catch it but put on my best polite enquiring face and got her to repeat it.

    "What are you filming?"

    'Filming?!' Not wanting to split hairs I pointed in the same direction as the camera and said I was taking a picture of the tunnel.

    "Have you got permission?"

    Actually, as it was technically private property, I'd had a word with the station master before I started. With it being a Sunday morning and not exactly rush hour he didn't give a damn as long as I didn't play on the tracks! I told her that yes, I did have permission, and she stomped off with a disappointed air.

    It wasn't until later that I wondered about it. She definitely wasn't station staff, she was behind the camera and I wasn't taking a picture of her, I wasn't blocking the tunnel or delaying anybody (indeed, I think several people only caught their trains because of my directions! I should have got a commission! :smile: )... So what was her problem?! I suppose some people aren't happy unless they're disapproving of (and, if possible, interfering with) other people's enjoyment...


    The final occasion was when I was taking some shots of a fountain near where I work at the Pier Head in Liverpool. I'd been shooting from a 'pod (as usual!) for a while when I decided to pop-up the flash and use some weak fill to try and add a bit of sparkle to the water. A few minutes later I looked round to see a security guard shoulder-surfing me.

    "What are you doing?"

    Never afraid of stating the obvious, I told him I was taking photographs. He mulled this over for a while...

    "What of?"

    We were standing in a courtyard with nothing around but very boring office buildings and one fairly spectacular twenty-five foot fountain at which the camera was conspicuously aimed... I told him I was taking pictures of the fountain for my photography evening class. Another pause...

    "Can you prove who you are?"

    By this time I was getting more than a bit cheesed-off with this. I was in a public place taking pictures of a fountain during my lunch hour and, apart from anything else, didn't need the interruption. I considered telling him to go forth and multiply but instead smiled politely and dug out my student library card. While he scrutinised it (brow furrowed, running his finger under the words and moving his lips) I asked him if there was a problem.

    He then pointed out that the building *behind* the fountain belonged to the Ministry of Defence...

    Ah. Oh.

    He gave the card back and I carried on taking shots for another 15 minutes or so... ...but I'm quite glad I kept that encounter on an amicable footing!
     
  9. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    I was once arrested in a parking garage at The City Centre in Århus, Denmark while shooting pix for a CD cover. They thought I was a terrorist investigating the resort :rolleyes:

    But I was let go after 15 min. of explanation and it was ok for me to shoot on :D

    Morten
     
  10. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    I have had a bit of fun being thought of as a terrorist with a cannon. I've decided the next time someone comes up and asks what I am doing, I am going to get excited and tell them to strip down quickly. the modeling agency was supposed to send them out sooner for the nude layout. If they stammer I will just get impatient and offer to help them get out of their clothes. Time to turn the scenrio around and make them uncomfortable.
     
  11. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Even when photographing in the middle of very rural areas, people stop and ask what I'm doing. While photographing a stream from the road bed above it, a guy asked me if I were a surveyor. I assured him I wasn't and that what he was looking at was a camera on a tripod, but I must not have entirely persuade him. He launched into a four or five minute tirade damning NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the horrible effect it was having on the local onion and vegetable farmers. He was sure I was surveying the planted fields for greedy land developers eager to snatch the land out from under the struggling growers. From then on, I've kept a portfolio of several mounted prints nearby to reassure the threatened that I'm harmlessly artsy and absolutely no threat to hearth, home or the national interest.
     
  12. kaishowing

    kaishowing Member

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    I've noticed a change in people's attitudes locally regarding me and a camera! For a couple of months early in the year it became a common sight to see me with a digital camera dashing around, stopping suddenly, snap an image then continue onwards only to stop again shortly later.
    Quite often, people would notice me and start larking around where I was shooting...pulling faces, waving etc...
    Now I only use a 35mm SLR, people somehow seem more reluctant to get in the way and will go about their business normally, or even stop walking if I'm shooting or try to crouch under my line of sight, and crab-walk along!
    They regarded the digital camera as a toy and treated it accordingly, but the SLR seems to give me more credability in their eyes.

    P.S. By the way, even if you're on public property, taking photo's around an airport isn't a good idea without permission!!! Being nose to barrel of a machine gun is an incredibly effective laxative!
     
  13. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Yeah, thanks for that Messrs Blair & Bush! *^$"ers!
     
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  15. sparx

    sparx Member

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    I haven't tried any street photography yet, i would love to though but i am worried about the response from people.
    A certain amount of scare mongering by press and government (terrorists round every corner, no-one is safe i tell you, no-one) and reaction from the hard of thinking (an hereditary problem in deepest dark Norfolk) has so far put me off.
     
  16. kaishowing

    kaishowing Member

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    Don't be put off by it!! They have had enough small victories in as much that our lives have changed. If they stop us feeling free to do something as harmless as following a hobby or interest, thats another victory for them!:D
    Go for it!
     
  17. Snapper

    Snapper Member

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    I had an incident recently when photographing a run down area in Brighton for a college project. Apart from the curious looks ("what's he doing photographing that for"?), I had one shop owner come out and ask me what I was doing, I told him politely, but he was having none of it. Not believing I was a student because I had an new mid-range SLR (I was part-time), he accused me of working for some secretive government organisation that had nothing better to do than take pictures of second-hand shops, then complained about the amount of taxes he had to pay, getting more and more heated he finally threatened to call the police! I eventually told him where to go.

    On another project I was moved on several times at railway stations in London by staff. You do actually need a permit from Railtrack (or whoever it is now), which takes ages to obtain, to prove you are not a terrorist recce'ing the place.

    It's unfortunate, but we live in a paranoid society these days. I wouldn't even dare to take pictures of kids on 'the street' for fear of being lynched from the nearest lamp-post*. I think I will replace the slr with a rangefinder in future.

    (*for those of you outside the UK, a few years ago a Paediatrician's house was fire-bombed by an angry (yet illiterate) mob of locals!!)
     
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  18. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Here at the beach, it seems to depend on the camera. 35mm draws very little, if any attention - lots of tourists have them. When I'm using the 4x5 Speed Graphic, people get out of my way and stand back a respectful distance, cops and firefighters let me get close to the action. Folks must still associate them with Serious Newspaper Work.

    The 8x10 attracts the nuts. In a public area, they seem to wait until I'm under the darkcloth to walk up, tap me on the arm, and say, "Excuse me. Excuse me. What are you doing?" Before I learned better, I tried to engage these interrupters in polite conversation. Now I use my own version of Francesco's trick - I come out from under the dark cloth waving my arms and shouting "I don't speak English" in Serbo-Croatian. That usually frightens them away. (I'm working on Mandarin Chinese as a backup.)

    One woman was persistent. I finally frightened her away by saying, "Listen lady. I'm a lawyer. If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to sue your ass off." That got rid of her.

    I think I'll try Aggie's way next.
    juan
     
  19. dr bob

    dr bob Member

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    I think Aggie’s method is great. I wish I had the nerve to try it. I’ve had a couple of incidents. The first was on a mountain in Virginia: there was a tree growing from a rock ledge in a very unbelievable way so I thought a picture might be interesting. While setting up a 35mm Nikon, a black SUV comes up and a couple of men(?) emerge, I was glad to have my brother-in-law along with his cell phone. They accused me of spying on private property and ask me un-politely to leave. I stopped my activity, leaving the tripod in place and called the state police immediately. I had no idea who these guys were. They claimed to be private security of the property owner but showed no ID. The police arrived almost instantaneously and engaged the two in jovial communication. They obviously knew each other. The cops told the SUV’rs that I was on public property and in Virginia, was allowed to photograph anywhere without permission, with obvious exceptions. The image was not properly exposed because between the time I set up and released the shutter, the light had changed and I was sort of shook up.

    The second occurred on a public park path in Maryland. I had trucked the 4x5 gear onto a foot (bike) bridge for a shot of the swamp when a security person approached and asked the usual questions from one whom had never seen a LF camera in use. I had to dissemble the thing and put my hand through it before he was convinced it was not some subversion device. Fortunately I had a blank film holder for him to examine. He also looked through my lenses (??).

    Question: “Can you still get film for that?” Answer: “No!”
    Question: “I know quality when I see it. That’s a Hasselblad, isn’t it?”
    Answer; “Yes.”
    Question: “Why don’t you just use a digital?” Answer: “What’s that?”
     
  20. scootermm

    scootermm Subscriber

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    It would be hard for me to even list the number of interesting encounters Ive had while out shooting. A majority of them in the downtown area of austin.
    Ive been threatened, cursed, hugged, spit on, screamed at, preached too, chased, ticketed, etc etc.
    one interesting encounter in particular, once I was out with my old Olympus OM and an 80-200 lens taking street portraits of people and the city and I noticed a girl sitting under an awning. she was maybe a few years younger than I (22 or so) and had a sign that read ..... "hungry, pregnant, anything will help" I usually make a note of carrying alot of change and a few dollars with me when Im wandering the city for these exact reasons, but on this occasion I didnt. I stopped and asked the young girl if she wanted something warm to drink (as it was quite cold out) perhaps a cup of coffee or the like. she said she would love a cup of hot chocolate, no coffee as she was pregnant (quite responsible I thought) so I went around the corner and bought two cups of hot chocolate and took one back to her.
    I asked her if I could take a few pictures of her and she agreed but immediately started off on a rant about how George Bush was the anti christ and how she was going to a rally the next day at the capital.

    I thought to myself "why is this young girl worrying about the president when she cant get enough money to eat and nourish the young life inside her". seemed so pointless for someone in her place to be worrying about such things...... she should have been worrying about getting a job or finding shelter so she could provide for the child she was bringing into the world. it was a strange occurence to say the least.
     
  21. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I have never had a problem with anyone bothering me with a 35mm. I do have people who are also interested in photography sometimes stop and chat.

    I also only get curious people coming up when I use 8x10 or larger. I think the size of the camera and the bellows makes a statement of hobbyist or artist.

    With 4x5 I sometimes run into problems. People become suspicious that I am from the city government or IRS when photographing their structures. On the other hand I sometimes will employ a couple of traffic cones and a bright dayglo orange vest if I am working directly off a busy road. No one bothers me then. I believe they think I am probably doing some kind of surveying.
     
  22. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    For the past 8 years I have done a street photography workshop in Brighton that is probably the most popular workshop I do. I'd never had a problem until 2 years ago when I was with a small group of 4 while the remaining participants were working elsewhere using techniques that I had shown them earlier. We were on Brighton Pier when 4 very big security guards confronted me and told me that they wanted all 5 of us to go with them to the security office. I asked why and was told that it was because we were taking photographs, I replied that I would if every other visitor taking photographs did the same. The atmosphere got ugly and the best thing to do was to comply with their demand and I was told that they would tell me why we had been singled out when we got there. When we did get to the office they refused to talk to us and brought in a man of about 35 who immediately pointed to me and demanded that I should be arrested and my cameras and computer at home be seized by the police. I tried to tell them that I was leading a workshop but they would not listen even when we produced the official paperwork from the workshop company that employ me to do it. The man making the accusation was an American on holiday and had seen one of the workshop participants photographing in the direction of his two young children and had jumped to the conclusion that we were a bunch of paedofiles, hence the demand to seize my computer.The pier security chief appeared and called the police who arrived and after quite a grilling they believed us and the American apologised. We still do the same workshop but we now inform the police two weeks before and tell the participants not to photograph children unless thay have spoken to parents or adults who are with them.

    I spent two years photographing the communities of North and West Belfast during the troubles there and most of the photographs were of children and never had a problem, in fact I had no problems with any part of that project despite there being a lot of unpleasant things happening. I moved freely around the so called hell holes of Shankhill Road, The Falls Road and The Ardoyne and never hid the cameras or the fact that I was an Englishman.

    Sadly, the world has changed in the last few years and street photography is getting very difficult and I now always think three times before I make the exposure, especially where children are concerned. I do encourage people who attend my workshop to engage people in conversation and it does work. My early street photography was all done without asking people if I could make the photograph but I now spend much more time in conversation before making photographs. The only place that I have visited and would not make photographs in the street is Cape Town in South Africa, some of the places I visited were not really very nice and I thought it was prudent to keep the camera out of sight.
     
  23. jim kirk jr.

    jim kirk jr. Member

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    I can sympathise with the issue Les had and wish I could say that it was just an isolated incident.I visit parks mainly for my photographs and make a concerned effort not to do anything near other people or on the weekends-limiting myself primarily to weekdays when off.I have on occasion recieved nasty looks from people when I pull out a camera and children are in the area,so now I avoid the siuation whenever possible.Also I tend to wear fatigues and don't shave when I'm out and more often than not I now get friendly hello's-guess their either scared or think I'm in the military.
     
  24. mobtown_4x5

    mobtown_4x5 Member

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    Les-

    I can only suggest that you be careful around "the ugly american", the deluge of american tourist stories from friends abroad is a constant source of embarrassment.

    A related issue, as we get deeper into the twilight of western civilization, I have found when shooting my street scenes (usually buildings) that the "knuckle-draggers" tend to react with deep suspicion and distaste if I admit it's a purely creative or artistic endeavor.

    I have learned to suggest that I am taking photos for the city (government) in some unspecified capacity. Since the 4x5 is often confused with surveying gear, this seems to satisfy them.

    Matt
     
  25. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    Just a thought, do people who are actually out sureveying get stopped by the same people and asked if they are surveying?

    Maybe they subconsciously get confused when the see a photographer that they think is a surveyer because there isn't another guy standing in front of the camera holding up a surveyer stick. So they feel they have to ask to make sure that who they think is a surveyer is doing their job correctly.
     
  26. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    ,,,,
     
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