Street photography has to be one of most difficult genres in photography. Its also raises some ethical issues, the main one being consent or to be more accurate, lack of it. Many street photographers refer to previous experts such as the french photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. The phrase ‘the decisive moment’ is attributed to him. As a photographer he tried to be inconspicuous, to go unnoticed, to be ‘a fly on the wall’ and simply document/record a person or group of people in their particular environment.
Street Photography : without permission
…the decisive moment….
…neutrality can be much more difficult to achieve….
The object is to be neutral, i.e not to try and influence or orchestrate the scene but simply to let a scene develop and capture an image at the critical or decisive moment. This neutrality can be difficult to achieve. Simple unavoidable decisions such as choice of lens, camera position, proximity, angle of view, media type (monochrome versus colour), shutter speed and depth of field can obviously influence the viewer.
The successful image can say something about society, inter-personal relationships and a lot more. The photograph should be able to tell us something about the context, time and situation with minimal explanation from the photographer.
Street photography : There’s often more information in the shot than we first realise
There is another approach to street photography and that is to ask for permission. The results though can be quite different. If the subject(s) agrees to be photographed very often the result appears less natural and ‘staged. As soon as the camera is raised the subject can act unnaturally or in some cases even pose.
A tale of two approaches
The next two images here illustrate the difference. The subject in this case is a security guard in downtown San Francisco. The first image was taken without permission. I liked this mans stance. Silhouetted against the bright Californian sunlight with his black stetson on made him appear to be like the town sheriff in an old cowboy movie. Anyway, to me it looked good.
Perhaps not better or worse, just different.
As I left the car park I asked him if he’d mind having his photo taken (this can be the dodgy bit) but he was ok with this. As soon as the camera was raised though he adopted this cool ‘gangster’ like pose. I didn’t ask him to do that, he just did it. The results are quite different. Perhaps not better or worse just different.
To view more street images view the gallery by clicking this LINK