May 7, 2010

A Stranger Fear

I greatly admire street photographers, their courage and drive and spontaneous images. How I would love to be one - - but I am afraid do not have what it takes.

I can't bring myself to photograph strangers, candidly. I need to request permission of a subject, especially if I hope to use the image online. Most people are unwilling to be photographed and are not flattered. Paranoia.

At a local carnival I photographed a teenager. He wasn't pleased and asked me to delete the image. I politely refused. He told me that taking his picture was illegal. I reminded him that he was in public. This type of exchange always rattles me. I end up questioning my motives and then returning to quieter subjects that don't talk back, like potted plants.

I ate lunch at a waterfront park. After photographing my leftover crusts of bread I wandered looking for something new. I met a young woman. She sunbathed. I made pictures. We talked. She told me about the tattoo on her lower back for Steve, her boyfriend of seven years whom she no longer sees. I appreciated how at ease she was in her own skin. She gave me permission to use the images on my blog. Truly an amazing soul. I had hope.

Like anyone capturing moments, I am a fear-driven stranger, with a camera.


  1. If you are taking pictures outside I think you are a street photographer. Just because you talk to people doesn't make you less of one. As you said it relates to your intentions. If you are more comfortable talking first then do what's comfortable. It's not like you haven't shot in some strange/weird/uncomfortable places! For shooting without asking, I think it does help to have your intentions set clearly in your mind. I always found that after a few months of working on a street project, South Philly or Chicago for example, I was more ready to shoot without asking as I felt that I had my own story of what I was doing set in my head. You might find that with some practice you get more used to it. For both of those projects I worked both ways - asking and not. The Fear never does truly go away - but sometimes that is what drives you to make better pictures. So maybe it's worth keeping trying those types of pictures and situations too. Sometimes I have the feeling that if I ask then the subject will say NO and I have to get the picture without disturbing the scene, so I just go ahead. You were right on to defend your right to shoot in public. Sometimes that is much easier for women than men, especially if you are photographing teens or kids. By the way I really like the tattoo/rear end shot. If has that candy cane/plastic look and it is a bit Martin Parr-ish.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful insight. I agree with you that Fear is a great motivator. As a woman feel vulnerable and obvious in a way I imagine male photographers do not feel. But perhaps that is wrong, or just highly subjective. I am always afraid that someone is going to hurt me physically. I can barely handle the bullies. Making those images really did give me hope that I can leave my house and all will be okay.

    I adore your South Street and Chicago images. Clearly you spent time, waiting and watching patiently. They feel eternal to me and quite beautiful.


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