Few days ago I posted this photo on Instagram.
A friend, who is following my account, then sent me a questions in the comments section: how do I deal with ethics in my street photography. Good question.
Over the years, I have been reading a lot about street photography: the beauty of black & white photography, street photography techniques, the best cameras and lenses, and, last but not least, blogs where professional and amateur street photographers wrote about their do and don’t in street photography.
One blog that I remember more vividly is the one by Lilly Schwartz . In one of her blog post she lists the rules she follows when taking photographs of strangers in the street.
During the last few days I have been re-thinking what I consider right or wrong in doing street photography.
While there is a great degree of subjectivity on which rules we apply to ourselves, I think that above those subjective rules there is (at least for me) a more universal rule which is about respect to others and of ‘not doing harm’ when taking photos of people in the streets.
The specific rules that I have for myself and which I try to follow come under this general principle and are subjective in the sense that they are shaped and defined by the values I have been given through my education and upbringing, my own character and what I feel comfortable to do (and not to do) .
1. I never take a picture of homeless people of any age. Not even by asking them whether I can. I just do not do it. It does not feel right to me. I did it once, about 10 years ago while walking in the street of Old Delhi near the Red Fort. The moment I took the photo, I knew I was doing something wrong. I have not done it ever since.
2. I ask, whenever possible, if I can to take a photo of someone. Here in Jakarta I speak enough Bahasa Indonesia to have a chat and ask if I can take a photo. Most of the times the people I meet are happy for me taking a photo of them and showing them the result on the LCD screen. People often ask me to take their picture particularly when they are in a group. If someone says no; no problem. A smile, an apology, and all is good.
3. There are cases like the photo above where I cannot ask permission to take the photo. The man was on a bus moving quickly along a busy road in Jakarta. However, I do not feel I am stealing something. My aim is document the common everyday life of people living in cities. I am not a professional photographer and do not make money out of the photos I take. I share my photos through my blog and social media as a way to share with a larger community a moment, a split second that for a reason or another I felt was worth capturing to contribute to telling a story that is unfolding every day, every hour, every minute in a city.
4. If a person has second thoughts and ask me to delete the photo I can do it in front of their eyes showing the LCD screen. However, this is not happened to me yet.
5. I tend not to use telephoto lenses for street photography. I usually take photos with a 35mm equivalent or a 50mm equivalent lens. This means that people do notice me and it is easier to ask for permission. I would use a zoom to take a photo of a crowded place from a distant view point.
6. I only take pictures of children when they play happily or together with their parents.
Again, thank you to my friend for asking what rules I follow for my street photography which has made me to write this blog.