Is the street photographer an endangered species?

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by My Bokeh, Sep 8, 2006.

  1. My Bokeh

    My Bokeh Guest

    I was reading an article today about a show featuring the photographs
    of Lee Balterman. He spent years (particularly in the 50s and 60s)
    wandering the streets (and bars) of Chicago, camera in hand,
    photographing simply because, as he puts it, "I'm crazy about

    His photographs are quite wonderful, and capture emotions and moments.
    In the article published in the Chicago Sun-Times (here's a link:,
    Mr. Balterman talks about how he managed to capture many of his


    Getting the photographs wasn't always easy, in the bars or elsewhere. A
    World War II veteran who spent time in a French hospital after the
    Normandy invasion, Balterman battled in his hometown. "One guy threw a
    bottle at me, but he missed," Balterman recalls. "Sometimes they said,
    'You S.O.B., don't take my f---ing picture.'"

    "But you couldn't help yourself," Berlanga says. "Could you, Lee?"

    "No. I watched 'em, and when they weren't looking, I'd shoot,"
    Balterman says.


    Which got me to thinking...

    It seems as if the stray bottle or two is the least of a photographer's
    worries these days. With a greater awareness of privacy issues and a
    greater emphasis on litigious actions, is the classic, throw-back
    street photographer an endangered species? The hesitancy inherent in
    straddling the line between "capturing the decisive moment" and the
    subject's privacy (both out of respect but also out of not wanting to
    be ensnared in any legal wranglings) must have an adverse effect on the
    final product. Furthermore, in a world where the word "photoshop" has
    become a verb, has sensitivity toward privacy issues been heightened
    even more? Do street photographers suffer from the well-publicized
    celebrity/paparazzi feuds? I believe street photography as a genre is
    different from paparazzi photography in it's aim, goal, and spirit. But
    I also don't think that everyone (particularly non-photographers) see
    the nuances.

    Or perhaps I am just guilty of listening to Chicken Little. Perhaps
    it's not as bad as I've been led to believe.

    I love street photography, and feel it is a rich and vital use of the
    camera. I would hate to see it sterilized and sanitized to the point
    that it loses its spirit.

    Just a little something I've been mulling this afternoon.
    My Bokeh, Sep 8, 2006
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  2. My Bokeh

    Padu Guest

    I'm with you. I love photographing people doing their jobs, going through
    their sufferings, etc. It is not always practical nor I am a professional
    photographer to ask for a release form for each one of my subjects. If I
    have to do it, I'll probably turn to something else, such as nature...


    Padu, Sep 8, 2006
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  3. My Bokeh

    Johnny T Guest

    What you do for your private pleasure doesn't bother me so much. But
    enriching your life, off of my likeness or misery, and I am not a public
    figure, nor is this newsworthy, nor am I being compensated. Yeah, that
    seems fair.
    Johnny T, Sep 8, 2006
  4. My Bokeh

    Ryan Robbins Guest

    If you don't want to be photographed, limit your exposure in public.
    Ryan Robbins, Sep 9, 2006
  5. My Bokeh

    Paul Furman Guest

    I was looking for samples of his images on the web and could not find
    ANYTHING with his name associated. I have seen the one described with
    the couple kissing, out of focus... in a bar or large group... I think
    that one...

    Either he's paranoid about law suits or copyright infringement but even
    gallery listings omitted the thumbnail under only his showings.
    Paul Furman, Sep 9, 2006
  6. My Bokeh

    Jeff R. Guest

    Yeah, that's reasonable.
    If you don't want to be photographed, stay inside your house with all the
    blinds down.

    Jeff R., Sep 9, 2006
  7. My Bokeh

    Paul J Gans Guest

    In fact lawyers tell me that once in public you have no
    expectation of privacy.

    Many cities in the US routinely use street cameras to scan
    areas. Here in New York the famous Washington Square Park
    is filled with cameras.

    And in many places businesses have cameras scanning their
    store front and the street around it.

    ---- Paul J. Gans
    Paul J Gans, Sep 9, 2006
  8. My Bokeh

    Jeff R. Guest

    Yes, I realise there is no such thing as a right to privacy, but I wonder
    how reasonable it is for hack photographers to assume that this gives them
    carte blanche to gratuitously harass, annoy and invade the (reasonable)
    privacy of random members of the public just because it isn't illegal to do

    Is everybody fair game?

    Hnh! We wonder why the great unwashed regard photographers with such
    Jeff R., Sep 9, 2006
  9. My Bokeh

    ShibbyShane Guest

    It is true that once in public you have no expectation of privacy but
    I've always felt that you should ask someone if it's alright with them
    to take their picture before snapping away. That, to me, is the
    difference between a stree photographer and a paparazzi. Also it's just
    common courtesy to ask if it is ok, which is severely lacking in this
    day and age.
    ShibbyShane, Sep 9, 2006
  10. My Bokeh

    RichA Guest

    Meanwhile, in London you are videotaped everywhere you go nowadays by
    the government and corporations who own the buildings, etc and no one
    seems to worry about that very much.
    RichA, Sep 9, 2006
  11. My Bokeh

    Ryan Robbins Guest

    There is a right to privacy.

    Taking someone's photo, by itself, is not harassment. Nor is it, by itself,
    invading anyone's privacy when done in public. If you're morbidly obese and
    you insist on wearing a bikini on the beach, prepare to be photographed for
    someone else's humor. Likewise, if you're a female and very attractive,
    don't come crying foul when you saunter onto that same beach in a thong and
    pasties and someone with a 400 mm lens sets up camp 200 feet away.

    If your house is falling apart, don't cry when someone takes a photo of it.
    By not fixing the house, you are showing the world that it is falling apart.
    It doesn't matter whether the 500 people in your neighborhood see it every
    day or whether 500,000 see it in a coffee table book.
    Ryan Robbins, Sep 9, 2006
  12. My Bokeh

    Jeff R. Guest

    In your opinion...
    ...which is noted.
    Jeff R., Sep 9, 2006
  13. My Bokeh

    Ryan Robbins Guest

    It's not my opinion, it's the law.
    Ryan Robbins, Sep 9, 2006
  14. My Bokeh

    Paul J Gans Guest

    I don't think photographers have the right to harass folks.
    However, taking a picture in and of itself isn't harassment.

    So that I have no right to shove my camera in someone's face,
    I see no problem in taking their picture from ten or twenty
    feet away -- or in many cases, even further.

    ---- Paul J. Gans
    Paul J Gans, Sep 10, 2006
  15. My Bokeh

    Paul J Gans Guest

    I'd feel rather like I was harassing someone if I stopped them
    in the street and ask if it was OK to take their photo. First,
    I'd no longer have a natural shot but a posed one, and second,
    they'd feel harassed.

    I try to be as unobtrusive as possible.

    ---- Paul J. Gans
    Paul J Gans, Sep 10, 2006
  16. My Bokeh

    Greg \_\ Guest

    That makes you more creepy and obnoxious. If it was me I might be
    tempted to wrap your camera around your neck twist.
    Greg \_\, Sep 10, 2006
  17. My Bokeh

    VK Guest

    That's silly. The entire point of street photography is to capture
    moments without interfering - to record a slice of life just for the
    sake of it.

    Take a shot, smile and nod at the subject - what's the big deal here?
    I daresay a vast majority of street photography rarely exploits the
    subject, and the few exceptions are easy enough to figure out? Is
    common sense and a sense of proportion so difficult to find these days,
    or does everything have to be reduced to hardline, extreme positions?

    VK, Sep 10, 2006
  18. My Bokeh

    Scott Speck Guest

    It is true that once in public you have no expectation of privacy but
    Perhaps this should depend on the situation. For example, at a major public
    event, if I take a pic of a sea of 1,000 people in front of me, I can't ask
    all 1,000 for their permission. But if I walked up to a lone person sitting
    on a park bench, and I knelt down 1 foot in front of him/her and started
    wildly snapping photos, I should certainly ask first for their approval.
    I'm sure that there are some obvious situations where one need ask for
    permission, and then there are "gray situations" as well. As a teenager, I
    was once riding through a town recently hit by a tornado, and I snapped a
    photo of a shattered barn roof lying in a field. I heard shouting off in
    the distance, and it was the farmer whose barn had been destroyed, angry
    that I was taking pics of his misfortune. In this case, there wasn't a
    single person in the frame! Of course, I wasn't so much focusing on his
    misfortune as I was trying to capture shots depicting the the power of a
    tornado. It just goes to show how taking pictures that seem almost
    "scientific" to you might upset someone else.

    Recently, I was walking around downtown Baltimore at night, wanting to
    photograph store fronts or nightclub entrances with colorful neon lights.
    Of course, there were people walking into/out of the nightclubs, and, one
    time, when I took a shot from across the street, I saw a fellow waiting in
    line look at me as though he were bothered, but nothing else happened. Of
    course, in the case in question, it was a guy who was with an incredibly
    beautiful and provacatively dressed woman, so perhaps he thought I was
    "zooming in on" her more than anything else. So, in some cases, someone
    might become upset at a photographer if they feel that privacy is being
    violated even if that isn't the photographer's intention.
    Scott Speck, Sep 10, 2006
  19. My Bokeh

    Alan Browne Guest

    Violates the Heisenburg uncertainty principle.
    Alan Browne, Sep 10, 2006
  20. My Bokeh

    Bill Crocker Guest

    On the same subject, has anyone actually experienced any attempts to prevent
    you from photographing public buildings, bridges, railroad yards, etc? A
    couple years after 9/11, I started reading that photographers were being
    harassed, and sometimes actually arrested because they were taking pictures
    of what is not considered forbidden areas, off limits. I haven't seen this
    myself, nor do I know anyone personally who has run into this.

    Has this actually happened, and if so, under what circumstances? I'm not
    aware of any actual laws related to this, and if it is happening, I'm
    wondering if they're actually enforcing any type of law, or just strutting
    their personal preference.

    Bill Crocker
    Bill Crocker, Sep 10, 2006
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