Your post forcefully reminded me of my own hang-ups and inabilities as a street photographer. Some months ago I was on a documentary shoot in Memphis, TN, in an extremely poor neighborhood, your typical American inner city. While walking through the neglect and destruction, I felt I was in India or Bangladesh. Some areas looked exactly like what you would see in a city like Bombay or Calcutta.
Originally Posted by MARTIE
Shooting was extremely difficult and close to impossible. Any attempt to take pictures would inevitably lead to unwanted attention from the neighborhood drug dealers who populated the street corners and alleys. I personally do not believe in "assaulting" people with a camera. Unfortunately, most of the subjects we approached were not willing to be photographed. I don't blame them.
The purpose of the trip and shoot was to collect images and video for a research/documentary project on sites of racial violence in TN and neighboring state Mississippi. It took a VERY long time to establish trust and to get people to pose and share their stories and memories.
Unfortunately, we did not have the time to establish that same level of rapport in Memphis. However, sometimes luck does shine a ray on you: a not too well put together guy approached us as we were packing up our gear, ready to leave. We struck up a conversation, he asked us about our resarch and project. He then gesticulated towards a house across the street, informing us that this was the house of a famous Memphis personality, and would we be interested in meeting the family? We were definitely interested. Politely we knocked on the door, expecting to meet some crack head and his three girlfriends, but were invited to an extremely tidy and clean apartment. The living room was full of memorabilia of the family and the musical legacy they had established in Memphis.
I wanted to take home an image that would summarize succinctly that legacy, so I asked the young man who was living in the house to go outside with me and have me shoot a picture of him holding up a framed photograph of his famous grandfather.
The image I shot, without any great artistic flair, does convey the strong, positive family ties that continue to thrive and survive despite the murder and mayhem.
So, again, rapport is what makes it possible to shoot complete strangers.