The business of taking street photos was an interesting one. I spent a lot of time trying to be very unobtrusive, mixing images of people with images of buildings and rivers. My instinctive starting point was that I shouldn’t interrupt the person in the moment, that they should be unaware and undisturbed. And I reasoned that if I misjudged that and they did notice or mind, I would apologize, delete, or show them the photo and offer to send it to them. I was making it up as I went along. Many a photo was missed because I didn’t dare.
When I got home, there were very few pictures that I liked. Most were deleted before they came off the camera card. Many more went when I looked at them more carefully. I had no real criteria for this. Some of them just felt wrong.
I was left with two. Our woman in Red, and an older man who caught my eye as he came up from the metro (lets call him Blue).
That night, I chose to post her, and leave him alone. In retrospect, I think it was because — for all that one might read tiredness or sadness or concern into her position — she struck me as universal. With him, it felt more personal. As much as I liked the photo, I wasn’t sure it was right.
And then, having posted her on blog and facebook. I took her down — swayed by a friend’s concern, the open questions of what was right.
Then, obviously, I reversed those decisions to push at the boundaries of understanding. Here is where I stand right now:
- I realise that I kept the photographs that I liked. I liked the colours, the lines, the shapes. And crucially, I liked what I saw of the person.
- I deleted the photographs that I didn’t like. Sometimes this was about background or blur, but mostly, it was about my sense of the person. If I was left feeling cold, or ambivalent — if the moment I caught made me or the other person seem less human, then it went quickly into the bin.
- I realised, therefore, that I thought street photographs were OK if they somehow felt incarnational — embodying something of the goodness, truth or beauty of the human condition, and something of God’s love, even if the moment caught was one that might (might!) speak of sorrow, weariness, or indecision. Humanity is not diminished by the presence of pain. The more I look at our woman in red, the more I like her, and the more I see her strength and beauty, whatever else may be going on.
I know this is terribly subjective, and there is not, as yet, a coherent ethic here.
But I can live with that. Ethics are rarely black and white, and struggling for a coherent position is part of the process. The only way to get there is to test and talk and try.
There’s one more post in this, I think. But I shall stop here for now.