Street Photography: Exploitative vs Respect

Street Photography: Exploitative vs Respect

Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a rise in interest by many dPS readers (and around the web) in the topic of street photography and street portraiture.

While I love the idea of documenting what’s going on in a neighbourhood there are times when I view some street photographers work that I can’t help but feel a little… uncomfortable at what is being presented.

By no means is it in all street photography but there are times where what is presented is very confronting – not only to those viewing the images but sometimes the act of taking some street photography seems quite confronting, intrusive and even at times exploitative to the subjects of photos.

While I think there’s certainly a place for using photography to document our culture (both the good and the bad) I’ve increasingly been worrying that some photographers might be overstepping the mark of late and in the process are almost exploiting the people and neighbourhoods that they photograph.

Today I came across the following video which tells the story of two street photographers taking a different approach as they photograph the Tenderloin neighbourhood in San Fransisco – an area that is often known for being a rough and dangerous part of the city.

Photographers Brad Evans and Travis Jensen share in the video about how some street photographers have photographed that neighbourhood in a way that focuses upon the negative aspects of the area and that exploit the people there in the way that they go about their photography – but with their project they wanted to photograph the neighbourhood in a way that respected everyone that they photographed.

The other aspect of this book and magazine project that emerged from this is that profits were shared with a community group to put something back into the neighbourhood.

I love the philosophy of street photography expressed in this video – it’s well worth watching.

More than photography from on Vimeo.

I’d love to hear what you think on this topic. By no means am I arguing against street photography or even using photography to document some of the challenges and hardships that some people face – rather I’m wondering if this can be done in a more respectful and caring way – a way that not only highlights the issues but which also treats people with respect and dignity through the process.

Over to you – what do you think?

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Robin April 12, 2013 03:31 am

    I saw a documentary or perhaps an expose on illicit like street photography, hidden cameras, in NYC where they showed how people are addicted to upskirting. Has anyone else seen this film? I'm trying to locate it.

  • Mary Phillips February 19, 2013 10:53 am

    Loved hearing your take on the subject, Leroy. Seals it for me. We are all humans, no matter what our circumstances.

  • David Hardman February 19, 2013 08:54 am


    That is one of the most interesting things I've read on the topic of street photography.

    When you were on the streets did you get many people taking your photograph? There are several reasons I mostly avoid photographing homeless people. One is because a homeless person doesn't necessarily make an interesting picture unless (a) there is something about the wider context that creates the interest, or (b) you are able to get in close and make it quite an intimate picture. A second reason is that I don't like the thought that homeless people might get a lot of photographers pointing cameras at them. If you're in a bad situation I'd think the last thing you need is someone waving their expensive DSLR in your face and then buggering off. A third reason is that I don't have a specific project about documenting life on the streets, and am unlikely to have the time to do that kind of project, so the idea of taking just the occasional picture of a homeless person does feel slightly exploitative. What would the point of my picture be?

    On the other hand, occasionally I see someone that I would really like to take a picture of. I have several missed photo opportunities that I regret, one of which is a young homeless man I passed last year. It was during the very cold spell in Britain during Jan/Feb 2012. I was just about to cross Millenium Bridge and passed a young homeless man settling down at the end of the bridge, with his dog under his coat. It was early evening and bitingly cold, and I heard this guy say to his dog: "Looks like it's going to be a cold one tonight mate". The two of them would have made a good picture and I did think for a moment about asking his permission for one, but I struggled with how I would explain the point of it to him. And I think I was also discomfited by the fact that I couldn't do anything about his situation. So in the end I walked on, but I still think about that one a lot.

  • Leroy Skalstad February 17, 2013 12:15 pm

    Looking back on my own bout with homelessness I remember being approached and photographed by some fella with a Leica fitted with what I believe was a 135mm Sonnar. I played along with him and pretended to ignore him so that he could do his creative thing. When I was sure that he was finished I asked him about his work as I have always loved photpgraphy since the age of eight. He elected to ignore my question and tuck his gear under his arms and scamper away. Guys....I cant begin to tell you how much that hurt. I told myself that if I ever got out of this mess alive, "I was in the emergency room twice for hypothermia" That I would approach folks with respect and acknowledgement that each person is a unique individual. These days I am associated with a local Help-Portrait group and give free portraiture to those in shelters and other facilities. The smile that some of these folks have when they recieve their print, Sometimes acompanied by tears of happiness is priceless and shows that their is hope even in the most struggling situations. When I am working on the street I am also amazed at how many of my subjects look right down the barrel of my lens with fire in their eyes. I really enjoyed reading the posts on this thread, Thanks

  • Carlos February 12, 2013 01:57 pm

    I think the premise is spot on!

  • Paul's Pictures February 12, 2013 03:12 am

    hey Brad Just read the post and I do agree with you on most points. I think as one comment said, once you start thinking of possible narratives, it does grow on you..sort of! I like your "hail mary" reference..a bit like the "spray and pray" brigade. This image could be one of a whole sequence just fired away willy nilly as they say. Overall I think it would be the "x" for me too on this one lol
    thanks for your lightroom workflow...good! I do similar but not in such a disciplined way which means I can end up doubling up, even losing the "good" ones. I thank the gods of art every day I watched David at before I even installed Lightroom..if I hadn't I would be mroe insane than i already am. I like how you immediately eliminate images that make people look bad or embarrassing etc. I ask myself also is this fair to the subject? Some I have seen seem to "chase" "quirky characters" and aim for a cheap shot or a cheap laugh. I aim to portray humans in what you could call their "brokenness" , which of course is something we all can relate to..thank you!

  • Paul's Pictures February 12, 2013 02:59 am

    Yes mary I agree..we don't need hard and fast rules to tell us what works for us and what doesn't..and as you say it changes all the time anyway

  • Mary Phillips February 12, 2013 01:42 am

    I think there is beauty in both. (long lens vs. short) Our individuality is what makes it all interesting and EXCITING! I'm glad we don't all see things the same way. Life would be dull. Photographs would be dull. I can look at a book of photos by a certain photographer and think he/she is the best in the world. I can pick up another book and change my mind in an instant. We all have our own "truths" and values and it's okay. Better than okay. It's what makes creativity what it is. As viewers, when you look at a picture do you spend your time trying to figure out how it was taken or do you try to figure out what the photographer was trying to portray? If I am doing the former, I should put down my camera and experience life for awhile. That is MY truth and it is subject to change as I have new experiences and insights.

  • Paul's Pictures February 11, 2013 10:25 pm

    ah i see your point about removing subjects from the context and surroundings Yes I see that. I guess my point is that the two appraoches aern't mutually exclusive. I never said (and if I did it would be stupid of me) that being close is bad or not the right way to go. Equally being further away is not bad or good in itself. I actually don't do SP to make myself smug and arrogant as that may sound. I try to make images that are about the people I phogtograph. Maybe I use a long lens so I can isolate them..So in that sense I guess it would be better to say they are "street portraits" but for me they are still street photography.. I wonder though does this isolating from the environment necessarily do away with those questions and ambiguity (nicely put by the way Brad) that you mentioned? you are giving me a lot to think about and I am going to check out that blog post you suggested
    thanks mate!

  • Brad Evans February 11, 2013 03:49 pm

    By the way...

    Last year I posted a rhetorical piece on my blog titled, "Is this a good candid street photograph?", and included a street photo.

    As it turns out, for me, it wasn't a good street photograph and I explained why. Might be a good read as it expands upon what I spoke about directly above, and might stimulate some discussion.

    Here's a link:

  • Brad Evans February 11, 2013 03:29 pm

    >>> However in all politeness I have to say I just can’t fathom how you or anyone can say that you haven’t seen photos taken with long lenses that “don’t speak loudly”.

    I haven't yet. Perhaps you can point me to some and explain why they work best shot with a telephoto?

    Again, what I like are street photos that release narrative, pose questions (rather than supplying all of the answers), are well composed/conceived, perhaps express some ambiguity/mystery, and reveal something special with respect to surrounding environmental context. Way too many photos of people on the street with not much else going on, out there on the internet that look like they were shot with a telephoto - losing a ton of impact in the process. Why not shoot them with a 50 or 35?

    Again, if someone wants to do that with a telephoto shooting down the block or across the street, and is *happy* with the results, that's fine. Their camera, their pixels (or emulsion). It's just not very satisfying for me. I *love* being around the people I photograph. In the end photos need to speak revealing something special - being close helps a ton.

    Just as an example, Garry Winnogrand and Robert Frank, were two photographers who shot close and were able to capture the energy/rhythm of the environment by being in the mix, rather than from half a block down sniping with a long lens.

    Just rabbiting on a bit...

  • Colin Burt February 11, 2013 11:36 am

    Apropos children in public places. I find that rather than asking permission of the parental figure to photograph their child - which often results in primping and posing and useless shots - it works better to say " I am going to be taking some photographs around here and your child may appear in some of them - is that O.K. with you ?" . A yes is almost unavoidable and covers you even if you happen to be using a 300 mm lens and their child happens to be the only item in focus ! And nicely relaxed and unknowing. I might then offer to email a file of it if they would like. That too is almost always. Costs me nothing and pleases them.

  • Paul's Pictures February 11, 2013 11:11 am

    very good now let's renmove anger lol

  • PAUL DANGER KILE February 11, 2013 10:20 am

    I re-read "Paul's Pictures" comments, and I re-read my own. I think maybe we are interpreting them in different ways. As a form of communication, writing loses some of the fidelity that you have with face-to-face conversations; it adds ambiguity. I didn't see anything in the comments that I could infer to-be "discomfort, agitation, [or] anger."

    I also [CTRL]+F searched the page for "discomfort", for "agitation", and for "anger". I not find those words in the comments made by a Paul, although "ANGER" was smack dab in the middle of my name. Literally. Remove "PAUL D", from the front, and " KILE" from the back, and you are left with nothing but "ANGER". :-)

  • Paul's Pictures February 11, 2013 07:47 am

    well Brad If you have been offended by what I've said then I ask your forgiveness I didn't intend to be aggressive. so I am truly sorry. As you say you are expressing your opinions..I didn't intend to shout...I wish there were a way to use Italics for emphasis..sorry for that too. However in all politeness I have to say I just can't fathom how you or anyone can say that you haven't seen photos taken with long lenses that "don't speak loudly". I mean it just doesn't make sense to me. anyway. I will bow out now. I had no intention to offend. i do have some health issues which sometimes blind me to my effect on people. so I will ask you to not judge me by my "ravings' above thank you Brad for your patience

  • Brad Evans February 11, 2013 07:22 am

    >>> your problem is what? ... MY YOURS i ... MY OWN IDEAS ... SOMETIMES ... POSSIBLY... I am sorry you have chosen to take a confrontational stance.


    Paul, I am sorry that what I wrote expressing my *thoughts and opinions* caused you such discomfort, agitation, anger, and leading you to suggest I have a problem.

    I was expressing my views (that you seem to have an issue with), based on shooting a lot on the street, and talking to others who do the same - including many who use long lenses and feel uncomfortable getting close. I can also tell a lot by looking at people's photographs, what they shoot, subject matter, their approach, etc. For me and many of my friends it's easy enough to "not intrude" shooting close. One does have to feel comfortable doing that, though - and like being around people. Many times beginning street photographers will say "I don't want to disturb the scene." Talking through that and looking at photographs it's soon revealed it's really about being uncomfortable photographing people up close shooting candidly.

    In the end I like photos to speak strongly, releasing narrative, revealing interesting moments others take for granted, with a gravitas and mystery capturing the energy of the street, and posing questions rather than supplying all of the answers. I just don't see photos taken from afar doing that which speak loudly. I am not saying ALL (capitals to match your style).

    Honestly, your aggressive stance, shouting, and reading your own conclusions into what others have written and how they feel suggest that you should try and look inward and calm down just a bit. Thank you.

  • Paul's Pictures February 11, 2013 06:52 am

    yes you make good points David. I guess it's about intention. If one does photograph a given subject, the question needs to be asked "why am I photographing this?" It's pretty trite to day, but photographs have changed things, but yes it's unlikely that most of homeless people or other vulnerable groups do much. Depends on what goes along with the photography. As in these guys here, their work is brilliant and has lead to a little better balanced view of the area they worked in and even money being raised! and that does make a difference. I think there are a lot of "street togs" out there who justify their taking photos of such subjects as being "to make a difference" I saw one post where such a "tog" was peed off because he was on his mobile and turned back to the homeless man he wanted to "shoot" and the guy had gone. How dare he spoil my shot? was the attitude. It is also I think about balance in the way we portray the "reality" we encounter. Of course we can't all photograph everything, but should try not to focus too much on one way or the other I think.

  • David Hardman February 11, 2013 06:35 am

    This is an interesting conversation, although much of it has diverged from the original starting point of the conversation, which was about whether it's possible to photograph poor/troubled areas and people in hardship without being exploitative. The conversation has largely been about the ethics of asking or not asking permission, shooting close-up vs using a long lens, deleting or not deleting photos if someone requests it. I guess those are the issues that most of us can identify with rather than the idea of devoting weeks or months to photographing troubled areas of our cities (I'm not saying there aren't any such photographers on this thread, but I doubt it's most of us). I see very little street photography these days that does focus on troubled, even risky, environments. In the sense that such environments should be documented, it would be good to see more such work; on the other hand, will taking photographs of such places and people actually change anything? I don't think they do change things, by and large, in which case isn't it almost inevitable that there is a degree of exploitation?

  • Paul's Pictures February 11, 2013 06:24 am

    Beats me what you have a problem with actually. I have never felt divorced from the energy or action. Just MY YOURS is to be close...your problem is what? you have no right whatsover to lay down street photography rules do you? I sure don't have that right.
    In my opinion one of the functions of SP is to record "moments" of people's lives on the street. I do that as you do, SP in the "candid " apect anyway means not intruding more than one can help on what is going on and trying to record things as they are. I have said already I am noticed SOMETIMES but being further away allows me to go unnoticed for longer and more often. Sometimes that extra bit of time allows a furhter one or more frames which do sometimes turn out to be "the one" . Having said that I really do quite often go out with a wider lens. I use rules you see..just intiution and MY OWN IDEAS just as you have and others here have. You are most fortunate indeed to be able to detemine so much, mind you most people can look at a photo and get something from them..May I ask how you can POSSIBLY know if someone is hanging back with long lens because they are uncomfortable. that is a skill i would like to learn. Going to war requires courage; hunting large animals takes courage. We are talking here about SP not hunting or war. Of course confidence is needed as is a little bit of bravery, but god it's not war. My experience tells me that most people who start hanging back eventually work their way closer if it suits their style and intentions. I like to mix and match. I am sorry you have chosen to take a confrontational stance. I have shared this thread with compliments on the good people here sharing ideas in a friendly and constructive way. Do not think that you or anyone can define for anyone else what is and what is not SP and what lenses or cameras to use (Someone once told me that "true" SP is only possible with a Leica...scary eh?). I admire your work and wouldn't dream of telling you to do things in any other way than YOU want and feel right and comfortably doing. So, please get off your high's not worthy of the artist you are

  • Brad Evans February 11, 2013 06:06 am

    >>> I guess they COULD lack those things, but there is no reason whatsoever that it has to be that way…

    If you want to snap photos from afar with a telephoto and be divorced from the energy and what being on the street is about, go right ahead. For me, that's boring and results in compressed photos lacking environmental depth, energy, and dynamics.

    Usually I can look at a body of photographs and can tell right away if they've really captured the energy of the street, release narrative, or have any kind of power/gravitas that speaks to the energy found within. Or if someone prefers shooting at a safe distance to avoid feeling uncomfortable and to help avoid confrontation.

    >>> Those amongst us who might think it is easier are not really understanding the whole process and the reasons for doing street photography in the first place…

    OK, what am I not understanding about the whole process and the reason I do street photography?

  • Ewien February 11, 2013 04:18 am

    I guess I am somewhere in between: I some times ask for verbal permission, but often I don't. My love for people and street photography is often challenged by the country and culture I am currently living in (Senegal, West-Africa). There is not a lot of (religious) people here that will voluntary pose for the camera, which brings in my dilemma. Or if they do, they will literally pose. You can wait on the spot to see if they go back to work / what they were doing, but it will not always the same.

    Although it is not my personality to be rude, I sometimes go for the 'one time shot' without asking permission. Often times it works, other times it won't and I will delete the file. It is often times easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

    Btw: I am all for shooting people in a respectful way and have given myself a mission to mostly concentrate on the "bright side of life in Africa" ....

  • Paul's Pictures February 11, 2013 03:16 am

    Hey Brad...I don't think I can agree with your comments about long lenses I wouldn't say that it's possible that ALL images made from a distance lack energy rhythm and dynamics...sorry but that doesn't make sense to me. I guess they COULD lack those things, but there is no reason whatsoever that it has to be that way...For me it is about personal preference. I do agree however that it is a good thing to engage with people. I rarely ask to make a photo but i quite often will engage with a subject after the event if they've seen me..good part of the thing for me too! In my not so humble opinion I find using a long lens is not the "easy way out". quite often it is more difficult. Those amongst us who might think it is easier are not really understanding the whole process and the reasons for doing street photography in the first place...well MY reasons anyway hahaha

  • Brad Evans February 11, 2013 03:09 am

    >>> I enjoy both genres, but I personally love and applaud them for their approach. Through their humility, they have captured more than a stark reminder of “where we might all end up if we’re down on our luck”. Well done

    Thank you, Sarah - very much appreciate your kind words.!

    >>> A side issue, but does anyone know which small camera they were using ?

    In the video I was using a Sony RX-100. It's a small camera that returns great image quality and still fits in my jeans pocket. I also shoot a lot with a full-frame dSLR, and always with a 35mm lens attached.

    For me...
    Street Photography: Candidly capturing people, or the evidence of people, in their environment on the street.

    Street Portraiture: Engaging, conversing with, and posing strangers on the street for a portrait.

    I do both. They are very synergistically coupled. The skills learned from each benefit the other. Sadly, I find many street photographers are not able to engage a stranger on the street in conversation, or for a photo. Many times that shows up in their candid street photography as not being comfortable around (or afraid of) people, and needing to shoot from afar with a long lens. Photos shot from long distances lack energy, rhythm, and dynamics, which for me, is what good street photography is about.

  • Sonik Bristol February 10, 2013 07:49 am

    Interesting video & excellent discussion. What a good idea, Darren ! A side issue, but does anyone know which small camera they were using ?

  • Al February 10, 2013 07:16 am

    The eyes. It's all in the eyes. Both yours and those of your subject. Light, pattern, movement are good but nothing unless the eyes say something. How you interact with your subject will create the eyes. This is the true art and challenge of street photography.

  • Paul's Pictures February 8, 2013 10:12 pm

    What a fascinating and thought provoking thread this is...I appreciate you all!! I am always wary of photographing children but will do it if it feels right. and i've never had a concern by parents...One guy asked "what are you doing" and when I told him he said." that's great" LOL. Other times parents have asked me to send the file to them after. They appreciate that someone is there with a camera to record moments with their children when they themselves may not have a camera. I have a feeling that it is illegal in some US states, but is okay in Australia as someone said and in the UK also there is no problem.
    Paul hit a good nail on the head...if you sell a photo of a hungry or homeless person and don't share the profit then that is exploitation...theft even. But more than that I think it is exploitative to take photos that prey on vulnerable people without power for one's own interest or satisfaction. Someone mentioned the point of not ignoring the "gritty" side of things. To do so presents an unbalanced view of the world just as it does if you only take the gritty pictures. It's about balance

  • PAUL DANGER KILE February 8, 2013 07:24 pm

    If you sell a print of a starving person for $1000, and don't share the earnings with that person, like you would a professional model, then that might be exploitation to a non-photographer. Other than that, I don't know what is. If there are negative aspects to a place, and that's what the person-taking-the-photos is interested-in, then that's their interest; it doesn't need to be everyone's.

    Photographers insulting other people that take photos is extremely annoying**. To be sure: I don't think that's the problem here. The problem that I have, is simply that I don't know what you mean, by "exploit" in this context. It's my ignorance of the subject, not that you are being critical.

  • David Brewster February 8, 2013 01:30 pm

    Mary, on your final question (photographing children in public). This is one of a number of myths surrounding photographers' rights – and potentially a whole different thread.

    In Australia at least, photographers pretty much have the legal right to take a picture of anyone and anything in a public space. (There's a detailed analysis here.) The only reason you would need a signed release would be if you intended using the image commercially, that is, as part of an advertising campaign, for instance. (Using an image for artistic purposes does not count as commercial, so you have the right to sell prints of street photos, for instance.)

    Of course, questions of ethics and respect come into play, but these are not legal questions.

    I'm not a lawyer, by the way, but have read a number of legal opinions on this. Also, laws vary in other countries. My understanding is that France, for example, has very drachonian laws in this area – if Cartier-Bresson were alive today he wouldn't be allowed to take any of his iconic images.

  • Mary Phillips February 8, 2013 12:55 pm

    David Brewster, I think you hit the nail on the head in that this is a wide subject. Not being that experienced myself, I am thinking there probably are several different sets of "rules" for different types of street photography that, as humble human beings, we should follow.

    As for the witty remark someone made about the noise pollution, it makes sense, however you aren't recording their music and possibly selling it. I think that's why I'd just delete a photo of someone if requested--because a photo is forever. I don't understand why a person would want to be seen outdoors in public playing a guitar if they didn't want their picture taken, but it takes all kinds.

    As for the person who is having trouble with the video, I'm in the country, too. This is one of the few that ran great for me! Clueless as to why or how it works....

    Another thing, about photographing children in public, isn't that illegal without the parents permission if not a signed release?

  • Sarah February 8, 2013 12:20 pm

    I really enjoyed this. I enjoyed the spirit in which they entered into their project ... with compassion and genuine interest in protraying the people in the community in a more positive manner. I find that portraying people within their environment with genuine respect, no matter what their circumstance; age or ethnicity helps capture their inner spirit which is what makes good street photography GREAT street photography.

    I enjoy both genres, but I personally love and applaud them for their approach. Through their humility, they have captured more than a stark reminder of "where we might all end up if we're down on our luck".

    Well done.

  • Adi Chiru February 8, 2013 11:01 am

    colin burt: you can download it and watch it later. It will probably download slowly but you'll get it eventually.
    Use firefox and install the extension called "DownloadHelper" to be able to download video from youtube and many other sites. I hope it helps.

  • Colin Burt February 8, 2013 10:57 am

    I am sure that this would be an interesting video. But if you live, as I do, in a country area where the 1970s telephone system allows you to use 'broadband' it delivers it as slowly as the old dial up. Two words at a time and chopped like confetti. Many HD videos allow access at much lower download speeds for us peasants but this one does not. Probably nothing to do about it, but if there is please amend to allow a choice of download speed for those unfortunates (?) who do not live in the big bad city.

  • David Brewster February 8, 2013 10:34 am

    Well put Paul. 'Celebration' is a good word.

  • Paul's Pictures February 8, 2013 10:11 am

    While I advocate that a long lens is okay for SP i never use it to hide. in fact hiding with my dslr and monster long lens is impossible LOL. And I very rarely photograph homeless people, disadvantaged people or those who are otherwise appear to be vulnerable. For me SP is about celebrating humanity in a way that influences other people to see the beauty in their neighbours. I never look for "quirky" or "tricky" images. Why do that? there is so much to photograph without resorting to any kind off exploitative approach.

  • Paul's Pictures February 8, 2013 10:04 am

    A good response by Adi, but i am still so often surprised. Sure I have had people say no don't take my photo etc, but never ever been attacked or threatened. Well one girl threatened to call the police. I told her go ahead, and they will probably arrest You for wasting police time hahaha...but honestly, I've been thanked, people have asked to see their photos, have them emailed. I have even had parents thank me for photographing their children unasked. I don't know why some people have trouble. but one "well known" "street tog" asks other street photographers and "students" in videos "have you been punched in the face yet?" or words to that effect. Is it surprising some people do get into conflict?

  • Jerry Schneir February 8, 2013 10:00 am

    While many of Darren's comments are right on the mark some sound as if you want to slant the picture story one way or another. You have to decide what is it you are trying to do when you are doing "street photography". Tell an accurate story or tell a slanted story, the choice is yours. In some cases you do have to be intrussive while in others you can sit back and see what comes to you.

    When I do street photography while traveling I try to capture the street as it is, not slant it one way or another which is what you seem to be suggesting. You seem to be saying that only certain kinds of shots should be included, only ones that tell the story that you want to tell. That is fine as long as your audiance knows that is what you are doing. Just don't portray what you are shooting as representative of a neighborhood or local.

  • Adi Chiru February 8, 2013 09:58 am

    I am still not sure what is street photography in our days but I can see exactly what it used to be just before it took shape sourcing from Henri Cartier-Bresson style.
    However, in the last few years, after I moved from Europe to Vancouver, Canada, I started experiencing myself a little bit of street photography and I realized how angry people may become when they just get photographed and how strongly they believe that they have been insulted or that you went over the line taking their photo on the street without their permission.

    Once incident I clearly remember was when I was trying to take a picture of an old guy playing the guitar, and playing it very badly. I was about 10-15 meters away shooting basically quite wide getting a lot of the place not only this guy but he felt insulted somehow and told me that I should ask before taking that picture. Another women came straight at me letting me know that she is one his side.

    I just replied: "Did you asked me if I want to listen to your guitar? I am an artist maybe like you and I just made a photo of the entire place but you are the only one bothered by this. I was silent and I did not shoved my camera in your face for the shot but you have polluted with noise the entire area and never asked for permission!"

    Was I wrong? I think not, since they both shut up...

  • Paul's Pictures February 8, 2013 09:20 am

    ah yes ain't that the truth David. I guess I just started out using the long lens (mainly because it has vibration reduction and I have shaky hands) got used to it and found I got overall good results...lots of intimacy which the "experts" say you cant get with a long lens. Sometimes I think i get annoyed at that attitude! Hope I didn't take that out on you mate! It is for sure a different perspective and one I like very much

  • Paul's Pictures February 8, 2013 09:10 am

    I think I've asked probably three or four times in three years. I have a little bit of an unusual philosophy on "permission" I feel that if I am really "in and of" the street and really in the moment, then i will be drawn to the subject as they will be to me in some kind of "mysterious" way. I then think they are "inviting" me to make their image. It is odd that with this approach and people liking my work, I have so few followers. I think it's because I don't have that "macho hunter" mentality where anything goes. Love, respect, compassion, a willingness to engage in whatever way comes along, these are for me key to street photography

  • David Brewster February 8, 2013 09:08 am

    You're quite right Paul: we each have our boundaries. So my point about long lenses was a point about how I feel – not a judgement on you or anyone else.

    Perhaps that's the bottom line: none of us is really in a position to judge anyone else, or to assume that what we are comfortable/uncomfortable with is right/wrong. Each to their own. It's hard enough living up to our own consciences let alone anyone else's!

    (For the record, I actually want to challenge myself this year to use the long lens a bit more often, simply for a different perspective.)

  • Paul's Pictures February 8, 2013 08:30 am

    I find it really hard to comprehend how some people think that using a long lens to get close is intrusive...It is not logical...I have found in THREE years of using a long lens ( a Nikon monster!) that people are more relaxed and less threatened as I am further away physically. They do see me sometimes but because they are more less intimidated they are more likely to either just smile or talk to me or whatever it is usually a nice interaction. II agree that there are a lot of definitions of SP and I shy away from that debate because it is mostly BS and about "following" some master or teacher or whatever. As they poster above says we all have boundaries and in reality nobody is going to tell ME what SP is or is not..except me...and I don't mind telling others what it is eithert haha

  • David Brewster February 8, 2013 08:23 am

    Good discussion, and video, but there are far too many definitions of 'street photography' swirling around in here. For a nicely rounded discussion of what street photography is (and the difficulty defining it), I highly recommend DPS contributor James Maher's ebook, 'The Essentials of Street Photography'.

    A lot of people seem to define street photography by what they are comfortable doing themselves. That leads to quite narrow definitions. If we all did the same thing, photography would be pretty boring.

    I like taking candid pictures from reasonably close, and discreetly so that the subject is not interrupted at all. I'm not comfortable with using a telephoto lens to get in close – I feel that is intrusive. I never take pictures of homeless people or even Big Issue vendors, out of respect for those people.

    But all these 'rules' are just my boundaries. I also acknowledge that people like Bruce Gilden have an entirely different approach. I could never do what he does, but that doesn't make it wrong.

    I agree with the overall sentiment that all photographers should show respect for their subjects, and not take 'cheap shots' on the street or anywhere else. But by no means does that make all candid street photography disrespectful.

  • Mary Phillips February 8, 2013 07:47 am

    I love doing street photography, but I also feel it's only fair to ask first. I do understand the "candid" aspect of it, but also feel you can get what you are looking for if they are asked in advance. Unless it's an especially heated moment and that would cause me to walk away quickly! I also feel it's a great gesture to offer a granola bar or whatever to a homeless person in return. The last time I asked a homeless person for a photograph, the gentleman quickly started smoothing his clothing and hair and said he wasn't cleaned up for a photograph. He immediately turned and quickly walked away. I was bummed as he was quite a character with quite a story, but I still feel good about not sticking my camera in his face.

  • David Hardman February 8, 2013 07:22 am

    There are so many different styles that go under the banner of "street photography" that it's quite hard to say what street photography is or should be (Nick Turpin's essay "Undefining Sreet Photography" argues that photography in its simplest form IS street photography, and it's all the other genres that need to define themselves, whether that's portrait, landscape, or whatever). Lots of photographers of different styles and methods claim that they love and respect the people they shoot, whether that's Bruce Gilden or Matt Stuart. Recently I was reading the introduction to a reissue of Martin Parr's book of people at the seaside, taken a couple of decades or so ago, I think. This made the point that when he first released those pictures many critics said that he was taking a condescending view of ordinary people; but now opinion has shifted and his pictures are seen as an honest reflection of working class people at their leisure. Myself, I only occasionally shoot "street" but I'm only really motivated by the chance to capture an interesting aspect of life; it's not about my feeling for the individuals concerned, and I don't see why it should be. But I do try to avoid doing anything that would mark me out as an arsehole. I don't think there's any "rule" about whether you shoot from far or near; near tends to be better in my view, but it's all so bound up with the specific context that you really can't say that's how it has to be. I don't much care for the term "hard core" as applied to street photography. The Flickr groups that use that term have some great pictures, but I think it conveys a rather macho sensibility that you aren't really doing it right unless you're really mixing it up close with your subjects, and also that you shouldn't really care too much what those people think about you.

  • Joel February 8, 2013 06:29 am

    Strictly my opinion, but if you are shooting a homeless person, or any person for that matter, on the street and you engage them and or ask to take their picture you have crossed from “street photography” to documentary. As a photographer you can choose to some extent how you portray them even if they don’t know that you are taking their picture.

  • Louise February 8, 2013 05:03 am

    What a great video! It's so important to remember that we are all people and we all deserve respect and compassion. These guys are great. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Will T February 8, 2013 04:36 am

    I agree with Gerry Suchy's comment. Engagement is key. And VERY rewarding usually - really helps me biuld my story as a photographer. I think street photography is also about respect. If you're within someone's own personal space - certainly within a few yards(/metres) of someone - it's respectful to get their buy-in to photograph them. If you have your telephoto lens bolted onto the front of your camera then taking a shot from 200yards however doesn't need permission in my view as it's not intrusive to their personal space. More diffuclt judgement is, say, when shooting fro the other side of the street - i.e. not directly in someone's personal space but still close enough so that it's obvious to the subject that they are the subject of the photo. In this situation, some quick eye contact can work wonders and make it clear whether the subject is OK with being photographed. If he/she is facing mainly away fro the camaera (and so eye contact is not possible), then at this distance it matters a little less in my view to get their OK.

  • Shariq Siddiqui February 6, 2013 05:55 pm

    Oops sorry managed to double-paste my comment by mistake.

  • Shariq Siddiqui February 6, 2013 05:54 pm

    I feel quite strongly about this topic. There are far too many photos out there documenting "gritty" urban areas by depicting a homeless person shot from far away using a long lens. Recently I was part of a discussion between photographers where someone was trying to assemble a group interested in photographing homeless people, not so much to collaborate on making images for the project, but rather because they feared their personal safety when hanging around underprivileged people while carrying expensive kit. I felt very uncomfortable and asked how one could expect to get interesting images of people if one didn't respect them enough to expect them not to steal things.

    I'm one of those people who believes you don't have to hide across the street to get a candid shot. Rather, a photographer needs to be IN the shot - by which I mean in the moment - in order to capture the right moment. You have already influenced your environment by being there. Why hide?

    Permission doesn't need to be explicit - making your presence with a camera known to the subject could suffice - but it's really not that hard to ask. Being nice helps. No one says you have to shoot a subject immediately after asking; the greats have been known to linger for hours afterwards to capture the right moment. Try it!

    I feel quite strongly about this topic. There are far too many photos out there documenting "gritty" urban areas by depicting a homeless person shot from far away using a long lens. Recently I was part of a discussion between photographers where someone was trying to assemble a group interested in photographing homeless people, not so much to collaborate on making images for the project, but rather because they feared their personal safety when hanging around underprivileged people while carrying expensive kit. I felt very uncomfortable and asked how one could expect to get interesting images of people if one didn't respect them enough to expect them not to steal things.

    I'm one of those people who believes you don't have to hide across the street to get a candid shot. Rather, a photographer needs to be IN the shot - by which I mean in the moment - in order to capture the right moment. You have already influenced your environment by being there. Why hide?

    Permission doesn't need to be explicit - making your presence with a camera known to the subject could suffice - but it's really not that hard to ask. Being nice helps. No one says you have to shoot a subject immediately after asking; the greats have been known to linger for hours afterwards to capture the right moment. Try it![/img]

  • Kartik February 6, 2013 02:28 pm

    I got to do some excellent street photography on my trip to India. Yes its indeed a challenge at least for me to approach people. Some are very inviting and some are out right rude.

    You can see some of my street shots in my flickr stream. Here is the most recent one depicting how precious water can be in some countries:

  • Darren Rowse February 6, 2013 10:58 am

    thanks for commenting all - particularly you Brad. Love what you do!

  • Paul's Pictures February 5, 2013 01:38 am

    I see your point about the two approaches candid or portraits with permission. I don't agree with the necessity to be up close, at least for the candid side of things. I'm always surprised at the "intimacy" I can achieve with a long lens. However I never use the physical distance as an excuse to not engage with my subjects In fact I would say it's possible that I interact MORE with my subjects than a lot of people do when they are up close. People see me sometimes and the interactions are almost invariably positive because I haven't got too close and "invaded" their personal space and so on. Each to his own. all I can say is that if it's done with heart and with the right reasons then all is well!!

  • Brad Evans February 3, 2013 05:03 am

    Big thanks to Darren, and to everybody else for commenting. I really appreciate it.

    I divide my street photography into two categories; candid street photography, and engaged street portraiture of people I meet on the street. For me, the two are very synergistic. I find that the people skills I have developed from meeting more than a thousand strangers on the street and making portraits, has helped tremendously in making regular candid street photos. I think all good street photography is best done up-close, rather than from afar with a long lens, and being comfortable around people, giving respect and getting it back, helps immensely.

    The project highlighted in the video, Tenderloin USA, is about going into a neighborhood that photographers do not go into (other than to take the cheap drive-by shot of a person on the sidewalk in a helpless situation) and actually meet people, engage them in conversation, listening to their stories, and making portraits. It's about 70% engaged portraiture and 30% candid SP.

    Because we believe it's important for all photographers to consider giving back to the community they take so much from, we structured the project so that ALL Tenderloin USA photo journal sales proceeds go back to the community. In this case it's an organization called Larkin Street Youth Services. They help youth living on the streets between the ages of 12 - 24, with a variety of services including: meals, shelter, medical, job and life skills training, counseling, and more. The Tenderloin district is rampant with extreme violence, drug/alcohol abuse, human trafficking, prostitution, gang activity, etc. If you're a 16 year old kid escaping a dysfunctional family from afar, and end up in the Tenderloin on the streets, you'll likely never get out. Engaging in the project and donating all journal proceeds was our way of giving back.

  • Paul's Pictures February 3, 2013 03:19 am

    Peter you are dead right!!!! Someone said to me the other day in a site "Why should I delete it? I have a right to take it"...I said well you should delete it because the person IN the photo asked you to. simple. For me I don't even blink if someone asks me to delete..and you know what? in three years it's happened I think maybe three times. and why? because I am not aggressive. I love my subjects and act with common courtesy and honour and integrity. Not like some who I might add have THOUSANDS of followers and make a LOT of money and get to travel everywhere..well if it means i stay poor, don't go anywhere and have only a few followers but can stay true to me, then so be it. But the funny thing is, it might just come round!!
    thanks to all the great people on this thread...inspires me to keep going!

  • Barry Kidd February 3, 2013 02:45 am

    I've always had a love for street photography but frankly I've never been comfortable shooting people in their private lives as they go about their business. Sometimes I find that odd, very odd in fact, because I could be out on location and I don't have a problem at all. Perhaps for example I'm a structure fire and there's a lot of tragic things going on. In situations like that I just shoot away trying to capture the moment. When shooting with for myself and my own enjoyment however I just have difficulty shooting strangers. Maybe I'm just weird like that. I don't know.

    Either way I agree with this post and the video wholeheartedly. If you going to do something you should do it in an honorable way and not like some kind of would be paparazzi. I am trying to get into Street photography because I love the subject. I just need to overcome my own insecurities with my desire to capture the photograph. I know that I need to go in with the same approach that I use when I work but in my case it just doesn't work like that. They are two separate situations and two entirely different worlds.

    Thank you for sharing and have a great day,


  • Peter de Rooij February 3, 2013 01:49 am

    If you can't shoot it with respect for your subject, then don't. I believe we are human beings first, and photographers second. And we need to live up to that.

    Now that gets very hard to apply in practice. Everyone's boundaries are different. That's fine. But no boundaries because it's street photography / art / whatever, that I have a problem with.

    And of course, there are always exceptions. Right now, I can only think of some cases of photo journalism, where the story is too important (another slippery slope there). Even then it probably would not be me.

    Finally, an example: I've stopped following some street togs, in one instance because he published a shot of someone who objected and appeared to say "a$$hole" into the camera. The stated philosophy was that you have the right and it's real street photography. Well count me out, I'm with his subject. You also have the capability to choose not be to be an a$$hole.

  • Keith McMahon February 2, 2013 08:44 am

    I think Street Photography is 99% about the photographer and how they interact with their subject. If the images are taken without the subjects knowledge, or if the photographer has not received any kind of confirmation that the subject is happy to participate in what they are doing it can lead to to some very uncomfortable situations. The photographer is responsible in all situations as they are the one turning up with their gear, and if it turns out messy it is the person holding the camera who is to blame for not managing the situation properly

  • Louis Dallara February 2, 2013 06:04 am

    Imho they set out to spin the story in hopes to make it more marketable.
    Maybe they were afraid of keeping real??
    Nice images.

  • Paul's Pictures February 2, 2013 02:55 am

    These guys are terrific. I have long put the idea out that TRUE street photography is about love and respect and the portrayal of our fellow humans as they really are. No tricks, no looking for the "quirky" or whatever. I think people are beautiful and in the street I carry that attitude. I am not a "hunter" out to "capture" or "take" or "steal souls" I do not flash in people's some so-called street photographers. What saddens me a lot is that the ones that preach hunting and stealing have thousands of fans and followers while those of us trying to record the street with love, compassion, insight and humanity struggle. Thank you for posting this video by two great artists and human beings.

  • gerry suchy February 2, 2013 01:52 am

    I have a small project going on in Washington, DC which I call "The Invisible Ones." It's sole purpose is to document and share the plight of the homeless and homeless mentally ill in the Metro area. This is part of a larger project founded on Google + by Alan Shapiro and Mike Shaw both photographers you can learn more about this by going to #anotherdayanother600seconds on Google+. Photographing the homeless for me is all about engagement. People are enormously grateful that anyone takes the time to have a conversation with them. Even the mentally ill have a story to tell if you'll just take the time to listen. Clearly some folks are just too psychotic to cooperate with even a simple conversation so I don't intrude by taking a photo. For those that grant permission the compensation varies from a few dollars, a food voucher from a fast food place, bottled water, fruit or granola bars. It depends on the need. The only issue I have with photographers is with those who snap photos of sleeping homeless persons claiming this is street photography. Try some engagement, you'll be surprised at what happens.

  • Jo February 1, 2013 10:01 pm

    In the discussions I've seen about street photography, none have mentioned the main problem with the genre today - too many photographers. On a recent evening walk along the boardwalk of my city I counted 26 cameras on tripods along the way.
    Add to that the scores of inept wannabe Cartier-Bressons waving mobile phones and point-shoots in the faces of passers-by, vagrants and young lovers, and you get very quickly to the "enough already, piss off" point.
    I have even seen cats flee from camera wavers (spooked by the red glow of the range-finder). This annoying atmosphere makes the streets very difficult for serious photographers, whatever their attitude to the subjects.
    As to that attitude, of course it can vary from a hard-nosed art-is-truth whatever the cost, to the more gentle consider-the-community expressed here. Just as writers can ruthlessly exploit their friends and neighbors to bring gritty veracity to their portrayals, or write sensitive novels about their human foibles or courage in the face of pain, there is no right or wrong (legality aside) in pursuing genuine artistic expression.
    If you want to be the Norman Mailer of street photography, remember an occasional punch in the face goes with the territory. It's called suffering for your art.

  • Archie February 1, 2013 08:59 pm

    When asked why was Cartier-Bresson such a great photographer, Martine Frank said, "Because he trained as a painter, and because he loved people".

    Cartier-Bresson never photographed people when at their worst. He showed human foibles, certainly; but always with affection.

    Seems a good way for a photographer to be.

  • Jackson G February 1, 2013 07:31 pm

    I understand what you're saying but I think of street photography as a candid experience. James Maher seems to take some of his best shots walking through a scene with his camers againts his chest and taking a shot incognito. No harm, no foul.

  • Conny February 1, 2013 06:16 pm

    I think the approach when you shoot should be with respect in mind.

    Some say it should be candid shot to be street,, but i dont think so.

    personally i hate when people take pictures of me when i dont want too, But i also accept it if its in a public place.

  • s.samms February 1, 2013 04:16 pm

    This is a very squishy subject with no easy boundaries--that said i get the feeling from some photos, say of homeless people, that the photographer is thinking, "This photo is sure to make me seem gritty and real!" instead of "who is this person, what brought them to this, and what does their presence here mean?" Or something like that.

  • Darren Rowse February 1, 2013 03:28 pm

    One of the things I like about this video and approach is that the photographers are wanting to show the neighbourhood as more than just the bad/dangerous part of town. The reality is that while the area probably has it's problems and the people who live there have their challenges that any neighbourhood also has its fair share of inspirational, strong, creative people in it too.

    I think back a couple of years ago to when I went to Tanzania to do some photography and blogging - I spent most of my time in a disability hospital and met people in that place who I had a choice in how I'd blog about them and photograph them. I could probably have presented them as 'victims' or people to be pitied - some of them certainly had had terrible things happen to them. The images I could have taken and the way I could have written about them would probably have produced images and blog posts that would have tugged heart strings and been quite confronting for viewers/readers.

    However I was challenged in that trip to remember that I wasn't meeting and photographing victims - I was meeting with and hearing the stories of people not too dissimilar to me in many ways. Human beings who as a result of their challenges were often stronger than I'd ever be and who many times inspired me and who gave me hope despite their circumstances.

    In photographing them with that mindset I found that my photos and the stories I wrote not only gave the person dignity (and many times you could see their spirits lift) but also seemed to inspire others who read the blog posts and saw the pics. I still was able to convey the context and challenges the person faced but hope in doing so that I also gave a little hope (and received some too.

  • Darnell Jackson February 1, 2013 03:09 pm

    one way I take what you mean by respect and dignity is to use skill in getting the shots.

    any clown can walk up and shove a camera in someone's face but how many will be willing to sit there at the one place for hours waiting on the right moment?

    In the end it's not what you do but how you do it.

  • Myles February 1, 2013 01:56 pm

    It's not possible. Enough said. Street photography will always be about "using" people. The best form of "respect" you can give to the subject is to capture reality, as it is. None of this "ask permission for their photo rubbish". Minimal influence by the photographer. Keeping it as candid and true to the scene as possible. The way you photograph, what is photographed, however, is entirely up to you.

    That said, simple rule, if it isn't candid, it isn't street photography. It's fake. I dislike how he calls "a lot of people a$$holes with their camera". I think he just can't accept the price you pay for doing street photography.