Why did you take my picture? Thoughts on how to deal with photographing strangers

One of the most striking aspect of this wonderful video portrait is the joy of exploring what’s happening around you by street photography. Another reason why I enjoy this video so much is that there are so many people who wouldn’t dare saying what Orville Robertson says here… ranging from the advice of how to make a tough impression over his allusions pointing to Gilden (I guess) to his opinion on Winogrand wasting film. I find it totally refreshing to listen to him talking about street photography. There’s this trend of saying “Keep on smiling”, “Don’t disturb people” and be a nice guy in general. But actually more often when never you find yourself in a situation like this: you have to get this perfect scene you see framed and perhaps offend the people you are photographing. Sometimes it’s just the way somebody holds his fork which relates to the traffic sign in the back and frames a third thing in this scene perfectly. That’s what you see. The people in your frame see a guy daring to take not only one but a few pictures of them having breakfast, looking concentrated and kind of in his own world – perhaps seemingly grim. The chance that they are aware of the fact they are in this perfect balance of geometry in addition to this great early morning light is rather small. I normally react actually smiling a little and saying thank you. When people ask why I did what I just did I start describing all the details that I saw in this picture. I say I start because it’s usually not taking too long until two things happen: the putative protagonist sees that she is just a small piece in this never-ending torrent of things I saw and there’s no creepy thing going to happen with the picture. And usually there’s a lack of interest in listening to a point where I fully described all the urging reasons I had to take the picture. So I guess you have to be aggressive in a way taking a picture once in a while that you couldn’t take if you asked first – after which you can either switch to being diplomatic or conscious talkativeness  as I described or a little more direct which seems aggressive first but perhaps is the more honest approach on the bottom line. Let’s close quoting the supposed film waster Gary Winogrand, who is said to have been part of this conversation: “Why did you take my picture?” “What do you mean, ‘your picture’?! It’s my picture now!”.

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