Everyone you meet is exactly as much as you are. One human. Nothing more, nothing less.
I recently discovered the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama. After watching a few documentaries about him, I realized that I love the way Moriyama just floats around the streets. Walking up and down the alleys, just stopping for a brief moment to snap a shot. There’s no hesitation, no thoughts or reflections. Someone or something catches his eye and the impulse goes directly to the trigger finger, he takes a photo and continues. You see the same act with most of the great street and travel photographers - take Martin Parr or the Swedish Anders Petersen for example.
The Problem For Novice Photographers
As a novice photographer, you are struggling to find a way to cope with the fact that some people might think that you shouldn’t take their picture. You are trying to find a way to win over the thought that the next person you walk up to might say no. Most of us have an explanation carefully crafted in our head, for when that happens. You know that a lot of people today are not very eager to have their photos taken, the sight of a camera being aimed their way sparks an instinct of fleeing, a feeling of danger.
But of course, it is not the actual act of taking the photo that people are afraid of (unless you are a member of one of a few voodoo cults that believe a camera will actually steal your soul). It is what happens after - where is the photo going to end up? Some shady website, or in the tabloids, or being photoshopped into something that has to do with nudity and those kind of things?
So, you need to find a way to convince the people that you shoot that you are a nice guy, right? I thought so too before, but my view on that has changed.
HOW DOES THE GREAT PHOTOGRAPHERS DO IT?
Moriyama - and his likes - are not worried about having a good answer to deliver if someone would question him, or the lack thereof. He does not think if the photo he is about to shoot is ok to take in the first place.
It is not because he has an explanation ready if someone would question his acts. It is not because he told himself that he will deal with it if someone ask. According to him, there’s no reason why anyone would impeach him - he is just performing his calling. And he has to do that, no matter what.
The best humanitarian photographers believe that there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing - there’s nothing wrong with doing your job. They are allowed to and there’s nothing that would ever have a reason to stop them. Of course, for them it is not just a job, it is something that needs to be done. Something screaming at them from inside their bodies, a force that demands to be let out and the only way to do it is to create another photo. And another.
There’s not a thought in their heads that says these images should be used to anything that could harm the people that are portrayed on them. They know their intentions are pure.
A photographer should be filled with compassion, trust and respect for others. They believe they take something from the people they shoot, thus creating an unwritten contract stating that they will treat that person and the image of him/her with utter respect. He would never do anything to harm those people. Yes, the photo might make the person on it look a way that isn’t the most flattering. But - according to the photographer - it is the most truthful.
You need to convince yourself that there’s nothing wrong in what you are doing - taking someones picture. Instead of trying to solve the problem, you should realize that there is no problem from the beginning - you have created it by yourself and you nurture it yourself. How could you ever convince anyone that there is nothing wrong with taking their photo unless you believe that - firmly and all the way from deep inside your body - what you are doing is perfectly fine.
I need to be a photographer. I can’t have a nine to five job where I work for someone else. Whenever I get a feeling or find a story - I have to find a way to tell others about it. Because photography is my calling - as cheesy as it might sound. And if it is your calling too, you shouldn’t have to think twice about if you could or should not take a photo. You have to do it. You don’t think twice about breathing, do you?
For us, the only necessary answer to the question ”why are you taking a photo of me?” is ”Because I’m a photographer."
If you feel like reading more about approaching people and street photography, here's a few other posts!