Friday, January 13, 2012

Street photography under threat?

First up, the style of photography I take usually means that I ask permission. Not always – sometimes it’s great to steal a shot or capture that unguarded moment. But others…that’s all they do. Like arguably New Zealand’s best street photographer, (actually, photographer full stop, yet for some reason isn’t mentioned amongst the likes of Ans Westra or Marti Friedlander, but should be) who has been snapping the street for 40 years. His name is Julian Ward. But public attitudes seem to be changing, and citizens are getting ropey about having their shot taken in public. I felt very sad when I read this on Julian’s site:

“ The other day I was stopped by the police (the first time in my life) while I was taking photographs in a public place.  "Someone had complained I was looking sneaky with my little camera.  Other photographers were Ok with their big professional cameras" - said the policeman.  

Even after 40 years if I ever doubt what I'm doing I'll go home and look at my library of street photographers.  Cartier-Bresson for example immediately re-charges my batteries, and I'm a believer again.

Mr Plod was OK ("just doing my job") when he saw my book, which I often carry around with me.  But what has changed in our society? “

What HAS changed in our society? I think for some reason, lets not get into it here, it’s complicated, people are bedridden by fear, apprehension and mistrust. And combined with the fact that it’s no accident our nicknames are ‘kiwis.’ We are an extremely shy nation of people – nothing wrong with that. So two things to remember when you see a person with a camera. If it’s on the street people can take a picture of whatever the f*** they’d like to take a picture of. Secondly, some of the great photos of the twentieth century would not have happened if people went up and asked. Think the couple kissing in the streets on V-day. Or Brassai’s incredible images of Paris nightclubs in the 1930’s.

It’s a trend happening overseas also. In Australia, a long time photographer of the Bondi beach area was almost arrested after taking a photo of a homeless person. Now he actually gets people to sign permission slips. If this continues we are in danger if losing that wonderful art (and it is an art) of capturing a city’s moments. And that, would be a shame. Julian Ward has given Wellington City a rich and diverse seam of sights and scenes of the area – it’s a local treasure. So, advice to budding photographers (and bjesus, there are many) – NEVER ASK PERMISSION.   

By the way, that sneaky little camera Julian uses is a Leica M9. Around $10,000. For the body alone…not that it matters.

[ photo: julian ward ]


clare said...

great post, thanks :)

Cara Tiny said...

I took random pic without others' permission too:)keep up with the work wallace!

Turlututu-Chapo-Pointu said...

That's ridiculous, people are offended for anything now! Keep taking pictures Wallace, we support you and all the street photographers!!!

Sabina said...

Damn right. As a journalist this is an attitude I have to face sometimes. Not often, fortunately since most people know anyone can take pix in public whether they like it or not.

And then some people will just get in your face and say you can't take their pictures in the hope they can intimidate you out of it.

Never fall for it. You think criminals outside of courthouses are asked if they mind posing for a quick shot?

Sam P said...

TechLibertyNZ covered this a little while back: specifically regarding photography of our police force. There's also a link regarding the expectation of privacy and photography. ie in public, none: shoot away.

Haeme and Robecca said...

that's crazy! Is it something to do with Hollywood idea of the paparazzi invading people's privacy?
Though street photography most definitely is not a nuisance! I love what you do!

Lauren@Styleseer said...

Thank you for a really great post! I shoot mostly candids and I'm a little taken aback when I get the occasional comment on my blog suggesting that it's unethical. Good to be reminded that there's a long, rich tradition of candid street photography.

Alliv said...

This is just stupid! They should worry about paparazzi and not the real artists: the street photographers. Authorities and even the public should know the difference between the two and take action on the one that causes disturbance and infringes privacy more.

Thanks for the post!

Liesbeth (candyandtreats) said...

Wow, that must be really threatening for what you love to do! But I'm sure if you don't go publishing posts without permission you can still snap the picture to capture a secret moment :)

Wallace Chapman said...

Thanks all for the feedback. And no, I'm not giving up! it's about those street photographers who dont ask. @Sabina -indeed good thoughts !

Owen Fiene said...

Wallace, you are a great inspiration. Awesome post & thanks!

Anonymous said...

You said, "What HAS changed in our society? I think for some reason... people are bedridden by fear, apprehension and mistrust."

I think there are 2 distinct trends happening in society in terms of people's 'willingness to trust'.

People less likely to trust the govt/media-promoted 'other'; but at the same time more likely to trust that govt and corporation surveillance will never bring them harm.

To the extent that it is becoming normal now to post a whole family photo album to facebook. The equivalent of hanging our photo albums from our mailboxes for passers-by to examine.

To make a long story short, I think that on principle, it is best to ask for permission to take the photo.

I think the artistic loss in doing so is not as bad as living in a world where our movements are all potentially monitored and posted to the internet.

We are not there yet, but with the advance of technology, who knows.

'1984' By George Orwell, and 'Brand New World Revisted' by Aldous Huxley are good books!

Nice blog, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Me again - slight typo - I meant to say 'Brave' New World Revisted, not 'Brand'!

Craig Robertson said...

It's perfectly legal to take photos in public places - the police can't legally do much about it. Besides, anyone worried should be more iffy about people taking clandestine cellphone pictures. I mean, if you're out there with an expensive camera trying to make art - and doing so obviously - what's the problem. I do it all the time.

Mens Watch said...

I like the place where you took that photo.

owlinalarkworld said...

I think this is interesting. Are you suggesting there is no line between artist and creepy stalker? I can see both sides of the argument.
I am enjoying the more wordy posts. Smashing stuff.

owlinalarkworld said...

Although I can see why people are creeped out by not being asked permission, I would likely jump into oncoming traffic to be on a Street Style blog.