Street photography is undoubtedly an important genre of photography. It presents life on the streets as it happens, in an unadulterated, pure form. However, there is a thin ethical boundary that should be considered in street photography. This genre is legal, yes, but does that grant you the right to take photos in every circumstance? Photographer Jamie Windsor shares his views on the matter:
Some may argue that as a street photographer you are impeding others’ privacy. But that’s not the case that Windsor is worried about. Who would really seek privacy in a public place anyway? He rather shares his concerns over representation.
“When we see a stranger for a brief moment on the street, we know nothing about their lives or who they are. Any commentary we wish to make is determined by our pre-conceived ideas about them. We are limited by the lens of our own experience.”
When we come across people on the street, we naturally tend to scribe their personality in our head. Our thoughts are limited within the frame of our composition. We tend to make up stories that may or may not be true. And as Windsor shares his experiences, it’s clear that our stories are mostly inaccurate. If we make an effort and talk to our subjects, we can see that they might be completely different from what we expect them to be.
“We should aspire to make an empathic connection with the subjects we photograph. And we should avoid all desires to make fun.”
Before you go on and decide to make an imaginary story out of a person, Windsor suggests that you put yourself in their shoes. Be empathetic. Try to understand what that person is going through. Think as a human first, then as a photographer. Would you or someone you know want to be photographed in that situation? Ask yourself this question and be brutally honest with yourself. If you find yourself making excuses, you shouldn’t be doing it. But if your motives are good, go ahead.
“Street photography, when it’s good, is amazing. And it’s important.”
This dilemma of whether or not you should be photographing people on the street is not an easy one to tackle objectively. There is no solid answer. It’s up to you to judge the scenario and decide for yourself.
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