The Photographer, The Camera, The Streets and The Ethics that bind them
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Cameras are everywhere! With the advent of growing technology and advancements on your smartphones, you can carry your 'friendly' shutter everywhere you go, which is what makes cameras quite accessible to anyone at any point of the time. The right time to take it out, for what purpose and whether you're allowed to, is an eminent discussion that has been making the rounds for a while now.
Photographing on the Streets
Simply put, street photography or photographing on the streets is capturing people living their lives as it is and capturing different aspects of the world - freezing and framing time if you will. With a lot of people having access to cameras at ease, there are more people shooting photos and an even larger number of people being photographed. As you capture and walk by the streets in your city, you tend to capture and feature a lot of people in their most unguarded situation. It leaves us in a very thin and grey area about what is ethical and what is not.
In most cases and in most countries, there aren’t clear-cut laws that govern the photography’s world or even the photographed. Broadly speaking, one has the right to freedom of expression and if they are in a public space one can take a photograph without asking for permission. Of course, the right to privacy is also as crucial and is something that one must take note of.
What do you do when you're in this ethical dilemma? Well, I simply communicated. I simply empathized. It was only natural for me to involve my subjects in my process of creating and weaving a story about them.
Stick around as I dwell deep into the ethical bits of it and how I reacted, connected and at the end found a middle ground between right to freedom of expression and right to privacy. However, this is no guide for being an ethical photographer nor is it a guide for ethics in general. This is merely an individual and personal encounter with people, the streets, and my camera.
Experiencing the Streets
It all started when I was only a teenager. Cameras and the art of capturing moments and emotions always fascinated me. I was given a hand-me-down camera from my sister when she decided to specialize in journalism and her tool became the pen instead.
Eager as I am always with new tools, I woke up every morning before the first light glimmered the streets, to the markets around the city to try out what thrilled me the most - capturing and writing stories about people and their lives. The hope and colors they carried with them as they led a rather monotonous life.
My fascination and dream hobby slowly led to making it a career and I continued capturing emotions as I grew. Of course, years later, the capturing bit moved more in line with the fictional and film world and into a more controlled space.
Regardless though, there was certainly one thing common - communication! Not only did I communicate with the camera and in turn with the audience, but I also communicated with the subjects - the real protagonists in my photographs. It was only natural that they were involved in my process, be it directly or not!
During my time on the streets, capturing emotions, I made my subjects feel important. I did that by making a connection with them, be it directly or indirectly. Every so often, the extemporary situations left me with no choice, but to walk away with the photograph I had taken.
Bonding: Consequently, I would either do my part by giving back to the 'bond' I have created with the subject. I did this by endowing this person by treating them with respect, empathy, and most importantly sensitivity.
What if you can’t engage? When I did not have a chance to engage with them, I would simply try to tell their stories from a new and creative perspective and in a way help their cause.
And when you can: And when I did have a chance to interact with them, I would engage in conversations and spend a good amount time with them. Not only did I respect them, but I had the chance to be more empathetic with them and in turn even get a more powerful story.
Engaging with Children: When it came to photographing children though, it was quite different. I would make the whole process enjoyable for them, as they went about living their innocent and naivete life.
You Take, You Give
Ultimately, it’s in your hands to make the right choices. Making informed choices and thinking about your values is worth the time.
Channelizing your motives and deciding about your own ethics is something to give heed to. It’s quite fluid when it comes to ethics, so take time to make your choices. As long as you do your part, and ‘give back‘ after you ‘take‘ a photograph on the streets, you’re in safe hands when it comes to dealing with this dilemma.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t just take two in a photograph - the photographer and the viewer, but also the subject - to me, the protagonist!