A good photo will often tell a story, convey a message, and to do that you need some kind of context whether it’s the weather, movement, light or people. Street photographers are very good at images of the latter as by definition they are the subject and the context. For many photographers, myself very much included people are a difficult subject because of a modern fear.
I stopped going out with my old film cameras around 1998 because I was getting more and more suspicious and almost angry looks from passers-by even when I had the Ricoh SLR on a tripod in an otherwise empty park shooting a landscape, there just seemed to be an atmosphere of people thinking there was something strange about photographers – this was shortly after the furore about the paparazzi in the late 90s. Maybe it was just me but I felt uncomfortable being seen with my camera.
Having started again I still feel the same. In my camera kit holdall I have a card that outlines the current law in this country which was given away with a magazine last year because of the number of photographers who were being, sometimes angrily, confronted by members of the public telling them that they were actually breaking the law by photographing people or even buildings – in fact if you’re in a public place you can photograph most things and people, including the police or armed forces, as long as you’re not photographing someone inside a private building where they would have an expectation of privacy. There are today many people who do fear the motives of people with cameras.
I bought my new high-res and well-travelled compact camera last month so I could carry that with me in case I saw a picture and didn’t have my DSLR. Yesterday I saw a lovely view down a shopping street where I live, the late afternoon sun lighting buildings in the distance, ominous grey clouds on the horizon by contrast, people doing their shopping. I didn’t take my shiny new camera out of my pocket, I chickened out, all because I was afraid that some of those shoppers would think I was some kind of weirdo and confront me about it. Ten minutes later I saw a group of tourists taking photos round the corner and nobody seemed to be making anything of them.
The subjects of many street photos probably didn’t even notice they were being photographed, while photographers will often even ask permission to take shots, especially close-up, non-candid shots.
The thing is that I know I’m not alone in feeling uneasy, of being afraid of the public’s potential reactions to photographers, even though I’m sure that most people wouldn’t even think twice about a chap with a camera.