Stepping Out in Style

July 20, 2011

Street photography is my least favourite activity.

As a result, I have practiced more than usual, shooting casually as I walk along, capturing streetscapes usually, and not trying
to make too many individual portraits. Photographing people from behind gives an insight into current fashions, without having
to seem like a hunter.

There is such a body of work and analysis about the voyeuristic nature of street photography that I was put off
for a long time by what I read. Thinking that shopping centres would offer a more comfortable experience, I started
with them some years ago. The reality of the new gated city was quickly pointed out by security guards in some malls.
They are private spaces, not public like the street itself, and each place makes its own rules. The Powerscourt Centre in Dublin city centre
welcome photographers and there are some lovely architectural details there for anybody who likes Georgian Dublin.

Several years reading have made me quite choosy about where I travel. France and Quebec are non starters, due to the
draconian laws in operation there. Italy seems, so far to be very welcoming and since Italians are friendly in general photography
seems to be a good way to make new acquaintainces.
Some people on the street in England can look a bit grim when caught within my photos, so they don’t tend to make
agreeable images for uploading on the Internet. An exception is the delightful face painter in York who was really pleased when asked to post specially.
I shall never become a true street photographer as the candid aspect of the
true practitioner, where the subjects are in situations where they are outside their comfort zones make me feel uneasy, never mind
how the people in question might feel about being exposed to public scrutiny. Couples walking hand in hand, while charming,
are never uploaded, as they relationship might not last… or worse, they may be in an illicit relationship. It is not my
business to cause trouble.

In some Eastern countries, I make sure never to upload photos of people who are speaking in public. Since I don’t know
what they are saying and since they may be there without official permission, this is probably a safe measure.

Up to last week I happily uploaded the occasional shop window display, thinking that owners might be flattered.
However I had a strange experience while just snapping a particularly pretty display when a sales assistant rushed out
to ask what I was doing. The tone and general sense of suspicion, not really cured by my puzzled explanation that I was
just photographing shop windows, now ensures that, not only will that shop be avoided like the plague, I shall not feel
confident about uploading these sorts of photos in future. I could be breaching some trade copyright or other that I have not
heard about. This is linked to an experience of being at a fashion show years ago where photographs were not allowed.
This did not stop a lively visitor snapping everything on the catwalk, probably to rush with the prints to some warehouse where
the designs would be copied.

In years to come, people will think that we live today in some sort of ghastly Pied Piper’s nightmare, childless and
without any sense of joy in the friendlieness that photography is meant to bring.
Sometimes children get stuck in my line of view, but uploading photos to the internet is now such a touchy subject that
I have now come to pick up on the frightful paranoia that surrounds their iconography. I have been soundly criticised by some
for giving in to the current practice, as the freedom of expression that professional photographers value so much is being
eroded just as much by my lack of courage as it is by new laws. However, a long lecture by one matron on an Italian street
makes me remember that life is short and that I can’t spend hours placating the fears of the seriously frightened parents who
now people our public spaces. I don’t tend to photograph them much either, as they look so gloomy.

Street riots are out of the question. I did not get my hair cut for a year in order to be able to buy a good 50mm lens.
Professionals can get their cameras replaced on insurance and one excellent news hack I met explained that it was no tragedy
as covering street disorder may actually lead to a useful camera upgrade.

Australia remains the most pleasant country for street photography in my experience and I can’t wait to get there again.
The atmosphere is less neurotic than Europe and the buildings are very much to my personal taste. People don’t take much
notice of cameras in general and the Brunswick Music Festival is well worthwhile for anybody who wants to get in on
Melbourne life.

A prize for good humour has to go for the three friends I met while walking in County Wicklow a few months ago.

They even offered to pose again, so that I might get a better shot. I thought that the spontaneous sense of fun they had
displayed when they first saw the camera could not be bettered and their’s is one of my favourites, proving that all the effort
and discomfort was worth it in the end.

However, its back to flowers, statues, architecture and trees.
I can well understand why the very diffident Monsieur Atget used get up at dawn in order to photograph a world
devoid of people, which is why his work has a mysterious timelessness. Frocks and carriages are set firmly in a verifiable time.
People in future centuries may find us a dull bunch but all this ensures, please Heavens, that nobody will ever want me to take photos for money on the street.

The effort could prove fatal.

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2 Responses to “Stepping Out in Style”


  1. Interesting thoughts. I posted a reply over at Hobbits.


  2. Your post on Hobbits is really helpful, as ever.Thank you for taking time to comment.


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