Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Ethics of Street Photography

I usually avoid mentioning subjects such as this because everyone has their own opinion. Editors, curators, gallery owners, critics ..... oh yes, photographers also. I'd bet that all of these groups, except for the last, think that it's a topic that should be subject to open dialogue, panel discussions, editorials and such. Of course they do, they make their living with words. The more words used, the more important are the people who use them. Take, for instance, this article in which the author would have us believe that our motivation for taking street photos should be tempered by the culturally accepted norms of the era during which we shoot. So by his reasoning, it was fine for Gary Winogrand (who, by the way, is second only to Gene Smith in my pantheon of photographic heros), to  shoot without any regard for the sensibilities of his subjects (a show of much of his never before seen work is currently on exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and reviewed briefly by Slate Magazine) but that ethic which allowed Winogrand the freedom to create a huge body of work that defined the culture of his era is no longer 'correct' for current day street photographers. It's no longer good enough to be honest in our vision. Now, according to Mr. Coburg's reasoning, we can be honest only if the subject of or image(s) approve of our honesty. Heaven forfend if in the attempt at honesty, the photographer shows his subject not quite as they would want to be seen.

This is an issue that every street shooter has to deal with very early in the pursuit of his/her passion.   How a photographer chooses to come to terms with it is reflected in the immediacy and emotional impact of the images. That's what is paramount to me. Some may think I'm an insensitive boor, but what anyone else thinks of me is none of my business.