RX1 San Francisco Market Street at Night

Started Feb 9, 2013 | Discussions thread
teseg Senior Member • Posts: 2,208
Re: permission to photograph people in public

earful wrote:

... i did not automatically reject the op's photo of the homeless person in the mall as somehow out of bounds...

...so for me, the dividing line may not be the subject matter or even the intent or purpose. it may be ability of the person behind the camera to change my view of the world.

earful, very thoughtful.  I recently read On Photography, by Susan Sontag, who covered the evolution of photography, particularly focused on portraiture evolution since the early 1800's.  "The Greats" became great because they took new looks at how to capture images of people that photographers and "the class of people" they hung with, namely upscale and rich, would not typically see in their day to day activity.  These great photographers, Arbus, Bresson, Brandt, Avedon, Sander, etc... all got their notoriety by capturing images of the destitute and freaks, which the rich of the time were not exposed to.

One could argue their effort changed the view of the world for the influential. Sontag also highlights that over the decades the ebb and flow of "what is acceptable" relative to how the down and out are portrayed continues to shift.

Just like prostitution was the first profession, based on what I've read it seems like photographing those challenged in society has always been the first profession of aspiring artistic photographers seeking notoriety since the camera's invention nearly 200 years ago.  Why? because the approach has proved successful for so many "greats" in the past.

Of course, back in 1935 the U.S. Government (Farm Administration) hired Stryker to create "a pictorial documentation of our rural areas and rural problems", whose whole goal was to capture images depicting rural poverty so the Farm lobby could procure incremental government funds by visually depicting the need (rather than lobbying with data).  While it worked (there remains a very strong farm lobby in the U.S.) one could argue looking at photographs is not how anyone should go about making political and economic decisions.  Emotional "data" like photographs can easily drive flawed decisions.

Street photography is not my thing, much less photographing homeless, and compared to India, the U.S. has no poor.  I just want to ensure there is opportunity for a variety of opinion on this subject and no one is telling me what I can and cannot photograph or even advising what is politically incorrect to photograph.  I like to retain that freedom and thought it important I speak up rather than regret it.

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