Ethics of accidental street shooting
It's 3:30 AM and you arrive at a dark underpass to take pictures of the graffiti on the walls. You haul out the camera, tripod, lens/film bag and it takes twenty minutes to line up the shot because the scene is dim, you're shooting LF, using some shift and tilt, etc... You're finally ready to expose some film when you decide one piece of trash in the foreground is particularly offensive and go to remove it ...only to realize with shock that there's a guy sleeping at the dark base of the wall.
Bearing in mind the following, do you make the shot?:
-- you're not a street shooter so this shot wouldn't contribute to, or be consistent with a larger body of work.
-- while the guy could have no expectation of privacy, he'd certainly hoped for it by choosing this remote, dark spot. This is no park bench.
-- the guy could just be faking sleep after all the noise you've made, hoping you won't spot him in the corner. In fact, he might have been laying there terrified for the past twenty minutes, is it right to put him through another forty minutes while you make your exposure with brackets, break down the gear, etc...?
So what would you do?
I'd just leave him alone for this time, and try to come back to the scene when I have time, if that's possible. Provided you are doing night shooting, then you should actually have very similar light condition every night (I assume it's lit by streetlights).
Despite people's sentiments to itinerants, I think we should at least be civil to them when there's no conflict. Of course he's not supposed to be there in the public space, but I'd leave the guy some rope because he's not threatening anyone or anything.
If he would not be not identifiable in the photograph then it is perfectly legal to include him in the picture if you so wish. This could be because he is facing away from camera, in deep shadow, etc.
whatever the legility of it, think of it this way - you have - in this case by acident - ended up in this guys bedroom. For whatever reason (many and varied), the only private space this guy happens to have is actually public space. Perhaps look at it that way.
In fact this is how I regard most "street" photography that focuses on "street" people (and I know you came across this person by accident and they weren't the focus of the work). They are an easy target for photographers (in most cases, too easy, and rarely does the resulting work do justice to it's subject) - especially to those wanting to be "real" street photogs. But you are in effect photographing them in what is their home. If we look at it that way, I think most people with an ounce of decency probably wouldn't take the time to make (usually poor or cliched) photographs of such people.
I'd just go on about my business - keep shooting that is. Treat him just as you would a friend or family member sleeping in another part of the house. Try to keep quiet and not disturb his sleep. You need not abandon your efforts though.
Also, even if he is recognizable, you're both in a public place. I don't think there is any issue with him being in the photo. Either legally or esthetically. You can (likely) crop him out later if you wish.
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I agree that legally you are fine since it is a public space. I also agree, however, that the guy deserves not to be exploited while he is sleeping there. I think that continuing to photograph is one thing, either cropping him out or shooting other parts of the underpass, but it does make me queasy if you "take advantage" of the situation to include him as an element of your photograph.
Interesting, and as I expected, diverse opinions.
As it is, I packed up and left. What I don't know is whether I would have done the same under sunny-sixteen conditions where I could have squeezed off a quick shot and worried about what to do with it later.
Not a situation that has a simple answer of course. I think there is merit from most points of view; from "he has no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place", to those of the higher moral ground of right to privacy regardless of circumstances.
One could also consider how the photograph is going to be used too. If you consider this issue, what argument would be used if one was going to remove the person from the image post exposure? Then is it wrong to make the exposure? I can see people then saying "yes", that it is the actual act of taking the photo that is the invasion of privacy and maybe morally wrong. That being the case, one can stretch the issue to say just looking at the person may be an invasion of privacy too.
I think may come down to each individual's definition of what may or may not be morally correct and even how it is applied to each situation one might run into. The down sides to this are many of course. None of those except the one making the exposure know the true intent and values of the photographer and will make judgements based upon their own values, not the photographer's. It would be impractical in most circumstances to convey these things to each other... let alone agree.
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I would carry on, but if I disturbed him then I would offer to buy him a hot meal.
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
I think that for myself I probably would have not taken the photo, not out of any ethical qualm about including him in the picture (if he's sleeping in a darkened corner of the overpass, it would be easy enough to burn in the area on the photo to obscure him without causing any visual or aesthetic discontinuity) but more out of a sense of personal safety. If you're taking a photo with an exposure time running into the multiple minutes, he could wake up and wonder what you're doing, and not take a rational explanation for an answer. Many homeless people have been photographically exploited and intruded upon, and many have some degree of mental illness, so combine the perception of being made a subject of a photo against their will with a shortage of rational capacity and you've found yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Heck, people who have homes and jobs and appear on the surface to be rational can get rather huffy if they THINK you're taking their picture.