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Thread: Street Photography - Right or Wrong and When Does it Cross the Line?

  1. #1
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    Street Photography - Right or Wrong and When Does it Cross the Line?

    I have always loved street photography and admire the photographers that capture those interesting shots. Although I have always been hesitant, I have taken a few and then I always back off afraid someone will get upset if they notice their picture being taken.

    A number of photos in the news recently question how far a photograher should go to get the shot. I'm sure many have read about the police officer who bought a pair of shoes for a homeless man only to find out he isn't really homeless. The photo of the two men has been seen on many websites. Now there is this that I read in The New York Times this morning ..."Mr. Hillman, 54, was by turns aggrieved, grateful and taken aback by all the attention that had come his way — even as he struggled to figure out what to do about it. “I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” he said. “This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/03/ny...oots.html?_r=0

    Another infamous photo in the news today is the recent subway photo printed by the New York Post. http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/04/us/new...html?hpt=hp_t3

    Also, we have all seen those moving photos online of a homeless man holding his dog as they sit cuddled together on a cold street. I saw yesterday that a site is holding a contest for the best "Homeless Person and Their Pet" photo.

    I've taken a few shots myself that I have questioned if it was right or wrong ...a neighbors house burning and even a simple shot of an unsuspecting woman reading a book by the lake. Is it an invasion of her privacy? I took this shot of two homeless men, one wanting the food that another took out of the garbage. I have others where one of the men is facing the camera and somewhat distinquishable. Again, does it even go to far? Does it invade their privacy? If it were a closer recognizable shot of them, would it cause them or their family undue embarrassment if they saw it posted?

    The above is just to spark conversation on when does street photography go to far. When does it stop being interesting photos and start being morally and ethically wrong? Opinions?


    Hunger In America_3 by Denise Trocio ( www.dtrociophotography.com), on Flickr

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    No answers, but I will be watching this discussion with interest. Recent events have had me thinking a lot about some of the same issues. I love street photos and have always wanted to get out there do it myself, but I've always been hesitant and unsure.

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    I have seen dozens of debates about what is legal and what is not. What a person would think is moral and ethical and what is legal to do may be two diffrent things.

    Talking candid street photography;
    Personally, if I think in my mind does this bother this person, I choose to not take the picture out of respect for that person whether I know they approve or not. Not to say I am not tempted occasionaly.
    Everyone will have their own moral compass on this, and I am not saying any one shouldn't be a street photographer they have the right to do it.
    This is one reason I wouldn't ever be a street photographer, I avoid these kind of conflicts.

    Of course I have always enjoyed messing with the street photographer in the same subtle way they try and get their pictures without the subject knowing, say move in to their background and give them half the peace sign or something similar. Of course I will smile for the picture, it is legal to do and the way I see it my moral compass has as much right as theirs. Maybe I am twisted this way, but if we are ever in a picture together watch out for horns.

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    jrw, I think that is the moral dilemma a professional would face. Since he has the forum to change lives then he would have to weigh it out.
    But, if you are like most of us our forum is limited and our ability to change is limited. In my mind the professional is more justified in his moral decision to not help, than I would be. After all this is a hobby to me, not a profession. With the exception of a few individuals, we are not obligated to help in an emergency. I think I would rather be the guy helping than the one holding the cell phone.
    Last edited by HDNitehawk; 12-05-2012 at 06:42 PM.

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    First of all, that is a very moving photograph, Denise.

    The age old photojournalist dilemma – help or assist. I don’t think that there is a generic answer. The photographer in the NY subway incident claims he was too far away to help and was using his camera to flash the train driver. Who knows?

    One thing is sure, however. We can never deny anyone the right to record those images or to publish them.

    Larry

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    I think you've got two questions here:

    1) should a photograph ever exploit someone eg. the homeless, or the man on the tracks.?

    2) is it right to take pictures of people without their permission?

    I think the answers are quite obvious (to me at least): 1) No, never and 2) Yes, as long as the law of the land allows it (and even sometimes when it doesn't).

    I've taken pictures of homeless people, but only ever shown two of them:

    This one, the chap called me over, and said he wanted his picture taken, but that it'd cost me a pound. I have no idea if he was/is really homeless, but I accepted his offer and gave him the change in my pocket (~£1.50). If I wasn't in a hurry, I'd have rather asked if he was hungry and bought him a sandwich and a coffee, but I do not felt I was exploiting him in any way at all.



    And this one, was definitely not to exploit the homeless-person. It was more an observation of the bloke walking past and looking. People normally ignore the homeless, but this guy didn't, he looked at every one of them with concern, and bought a sandwich for one of them that was awake.



    As for the second question. I fully believe in my right to take photographs of the public. And luckily, the UK law permits me to do so in any public location. I make no money from my art, and I respect anyone who chooses not to take pictures of the public, but personally I don't find anything wrong with it as long as it is done in good faith.

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    Senior Member Raid's Avatar
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    This is the type of photography that I love, I just wish I had the talent to be one. I often think the the term street photography is wrong, it should be called photojournalism or a picture that tells a story. I have taken many such photos but its extremely rare for me to post any as I regard such photos as an invasion of privacy.

    The man on the train tracks is just the latest in a long stream of images that make us question our values, and the values of those who look through the lens. While we can say the photographer should have helped and not taken the photo, we (the public) are also to blame because we buy the papers. We are the reason why the shot is so valuable.

    I think that all of us would like to think we would do the right thing, but life has convinced me that we have no idea of how we would react until we are tested.
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    Senior Member ham's Avatar
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    Street Photography and Photojournalism are different though. I see SP as photography for artistic expression in public, whereas PJ is a recording of news in as unbiased a fashion as possible.

    Also confused by what you mean. You love this type of photography but think it's an invasion of privacy?

    I'm not being confrontational at all, just intrigued as to your position.

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    Look at some past Pulitzer Prize images and you'll see people on the brink of death. One that I recall showed a mother and her daughter falling from a burning building. The mother died, the daughter landed on her mother and lived. It's a haunting, disturbing image. The famous shot of the Challenger explosion catches the moment of death for 7 brave astronauts, albeit not as up-close-and-personal as the subway shot. It's a very gray area indeed. Shots of homeless people are also two sided. They can raise awareness and compassion for a troubling societal issue, but they can also seem like an invasion of privacy and an assault on the dignity everyone deserves. Tough call.

    I've done some street photography, but only of people who were not "in distress" shall we say. I don't feel I invaded their privacy as the shots only show what they were doing in public view anyway. And there was no loss of dignity. But I agree with Denise that there are times when your moral compass is having a hard time pointing north when deciding whether to take the shot or not. Even with the subway shot, some folks feel it was ok to print and others are horrified by it. I guess our moral compasses don't always point to the same north.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ham View Post
    Street Photography and Photojournalism are different though. I see SP as photography for artistic expression in public, whereas PJ is a recording of news in as unbiased a fashion as possible.

    Also confused by what you mean. You love this type of photography but think it's an invasion of privacy?

    I'm not being confrontational at all, just intrigued as to your position.
    All comments and criticisms are very welcome. One of the things I like most about this forum is that free expression is allowed, nobody gets to precious about their work (although I wish Joel, Bob, Sean, Denise and many others would post a few duds just to show the rest of us that they are human).

    I don't see PJ as showing truth or even being unbiased. There are so many shots that I can remember that cause you (the viewer) to ask what is going on here, in other words it tells a story. Many images may even grab you and disturb you. This is what I feel PJ is about and if you look at many of the images under the term street, they are easily to pick.

    I was out with some work colleagues and as normal I was discreetly using my P&S (f1.8 no flash). A woman received a photo call that her brother was uncontactable after the Tsunami in Indonesia (2004). A few days later after mobile coverage was restored she found out he was safe.
    Some days later I was reviewing the shots I had taken at home, when I realised I had taken a shot of that womans face as she was receiving the call. Even though I did not tell my girlfriend what the photo was about, she cried when she saw it and I still find the image of her face haunting. I have never shown that image to anybody else or even tell anybody it exists, for some reason I have never deleted it. I regard that image as a gross intrusion into her life.

    This is the conflict I see in this type of photography, the images that I remember the most are the images I wish I had not taken.

    What would you have done?
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