As Street Photographers, we are encouraged to interact with those whose images we capture. Advice is fantastic, but this particular opinion is close to being portrayed as fact. Time after time I have read articles that state the importance of talking to those we photograph. We are encouraged to ‘seek permission’ and to ‘share our work’ with those we photograph. This advice is not without merit and is critical if we want to learn more about the cultures we are immersing ourselves within. However, it can be best not to run with the herd when advice has such waves of similarity and to seek ways to buck the trend.
Interaction with those we shoot increases our presence. The observed becomes the observer, and the candid frame is lost. When people are aware of being photographed, they change. Schroders Cat runs the roost and objectivity is forgotten.
On occasions when shooing Street, I wear headphones and listen to music. Wearing headphones has the effect of removing me from the frame, I feel ‘less connected’ to the environment. Being less connected may sound counter-intuitive, however, stick with me. The most obvious connection we lose when wearing headphones is our ability to listen, this increases our visual awareness, which is a fundamental aspect of taking any photograph (beware, it also means you may not be aware of the rickshaw behind you that is about to run you over).
Secondly, when wearing headphones, I feel isolated from my suroundings. For me, isolation increases the feeling of voyeurism; I am not part of the surroundings anymore. Instead, I am just an observer. When wearing headphones, I will walk with a camera close to my face, keeping one eye to the ground and another to my viewfinder, with my attention remaining on the peripheries of the frame. Holding a camera close to your eyes means you will not need to make any big movements that would increase your presence.
When you wear headphones, it is easier to ignore your subjects and for them to ignore you. Permission is not sought, and there is no seeking forgiveness. Pass people by unnoticed and leave without them being aware you ever hit the shutter button. Using this method will give your images a fly-on-the-wall smell to them, and will inevitably be candid.
I would hate anyone to think we should not interact with the people we photograph; humans are social creatures and interaction adds depth. Just remember, it is not a rule. Sometimes you can plug in your headphones, let the sounds of the Street slip into the background and see what the world looks like when photographed. Please just don’t make it a ‘rule’, we have enough of them already!
Take Care and Keep Clicking, Chris