I have a confession. I hate having my photo taken and will go to great lengths to avoid getting on the ‘wrong side’ of the camera lens. Why is this? I struggle with my weight and am a regular ‘yoyo’ dieter. My weight goes down, then I have a couple of bad weeks, and it goes back up again. A photograph can remind me of my success, or failure, to lose weight. We know photographs can lie, and photographers can frame reality to suit their own needs or viewpoints. However, paradoxically they are equally capable of recording truth. When I see a candid photo of myself, I am often inspired to try harder to achieve a healthier life, to hit the gym and to eat a better diet.
Seeking permission would have ruined this photo.
A posed picture of myself is very different to one taken when I am not aware of the photographer. I will ‘suck’ my stomach in, or perhaps hide behind somebody else. In this case, the photo does not reflect reality. As a model, I have created a situation that suits an image I want to portray. This story serves as a lead in to my argument. Some photographers state they ‘always ask permission before taking somebody’s picture.’ I have no problem with somebody taking this stance, and it is often impossible to capture an image without asking permission. However, to believe that asking permission is the ‘correct’, or ‘only’ way to shoot Street is wrong.
Ask permission if the subject has a big gun. I was quite surprised that this guy was happy for me to take his photo.
The Walt Disney Effect
If we as Street Photographers only ever asks permission to take images, we are going to tinge the 21st Century with a Walt Disney veneer of respectability and falseness. We should be wondering the Streets and searching for all kinds of humanity. See it, shoot it, and vanish without a trace. Learn to shoot from the hip and to wander with an eye to our cameras. Let our images reflect what is seen every day and do not aim for every photo to be a piece of high-end art that will hang over somebody’s mantelpiece. Let’s take images that shock and offend alongside those of joy and laughter: remember, bitterness can make the sweet so much sweeter. Just as light needs contrast, so do the emotions of your photos. Right, I’m off to the gym, the next photo of me will be awesome!