That uncertain feeling
Stepping back from the seemingly endless noise of uncertainty, misinformation, myth and downright fibs about who, what, where and when someone is permitted to photograph, it’s very difficult to get away from the thought that lots of photographers would be more likely to leave certain pictures untaken than risk being questioned, challenged, stared at, filmed, shouted down, or beaten up.
Technological developments over the last couple of decades have demonstrably made the means to take a photograph much more widely available, empowering people to go out into the world and document it. But the reality of putting this into practice in a public situation is often rather more fraught, and quite a source of anxiety for a lot of photographers. As a London-based photojournalist put it to me, such can be the suspicion from security guards, the police, and members of the general public when he’s working, he might as well be pulling out an AK-47 when he reaches for his camera.
The awkward feeling this can cause certainly hasn’t deterred him, but it has made him a little clearer about who, what and where he’s not prepared to photograph. This is much less to do with doubts about his legal rights to take photographs than it is self-censoring; of having an instinctive sense of when a situation is ‘off limits’.
Hypothetically, it’s very easy to say that we shouldn’t show any fear, that dealing with approaches from strangers wanting to know what we’re up to is just part of the experience of being a photographer. But is it always so straightforward? Some photographers might be thick skinned and able to work in an emotional vacuum, unburdened by feelings of doubt, guilt, awkwardness, anxiety, or a pricked conscience, but not everyone can do this, and avoiding any sort of ‘conflict’ at all can be a far more powerful incentive than the urge to take a photograph… even if the end result is a photographer walking away, giving themselves a hard time for not having seen an idea through.
So some questions: how do you feel about shooting in public spaces? Is there anything or anybody you’d shy away from photographing? Are some situations totally off limits? How have you dealt with any confrontations you’ve had when out with your camera?
Image Credit: Gareth Dent