There is an uproar over this Paul Kessel award-winning street photograph. People are saying he’s exploiting the woman who is the subject of his photograph. They say it’s creepy he didn’t get her permission. Didn’t even tell her he was making the photograph. Didn’t get her consent afterwards. He made it surreptitiously shooting from the hip while seated across from her on a subway.
They say her dress is too short. “It’s almost an upskirt photo. He must be a perv. Deviant. Snake on a train.”
No, he’s not. He’s just another documentary photographer working in the public street and the internet high and mighties like to get all worked up over nothing. Photojournalists have worked in public since the beginning of editorial photography and street photography is simply a depiction of life in public, ordinary scenes sometimes raised to great heights when time is stopped and a strong subject or moment (or both) can really be seen in a photograph.
And she’s not wearing anything inappropriate. Hey, fashion police, get off her case. It’s like some bizarre reverse victim-shaming that she’s wearing that and he caught her like that.
“With kids, no less! Think of the children!”
There’s nothing wrong with that. The internet is what’s wrong. Public outrage over nothing is what’s wrong. Having this platform to be offended by things that are just people living life and photographers depicting life, that’s what’s wrong.
The internet is merely the easy source for amplifying these non-problems to great volumes.
Without documentary photographers working in the street, there would be no Robert Frank photographs. No Garry Winogrand. No Helen Levitt. No Dorothea Lange. No Henri Cartier-Bresson. No Vivian Maier. No Alfred Eisenstaedt. No documentation of our past. No history in photographs.
No photographs like Frank’s New Orleans segregated bus, Elliott Erwitt’s the colored/whites water fountain or Eisenstaedt’s the kids marching jubilantly. The past would be just that, past. Gone.
Do we really want all that to go away? No photographing in public so no photos like this?
And exactly, why?
What would be the result of getting rid of street photography–documentary photographs–what would they be protecting us from?
Seeing who we are?
There is a lively discussion going on at the Flak Photography Network on Facebook about this topic, if you are interested in reading others’ points of view.
It seems like we like to make ourselves afraid of each other. And street photographers are a target group that can be feared. They’re working without our permission, so they must be up to no good.
I think fear is the problem, that and the amplification platform called the Internet. Street photographers are simple documenting what is in front of them, people living their lives in the current times. Nothing nefarious. Nothing creepy.
I say be wary of those who call others so scary that they need to be feared. That all are untrustworthy.
Documentary street photography is simply showing us who we are. Maybe we don’t like what we see, but it’s truly us.
And maybe we need to take a longer look at some of the less fortunate to really see who we are as well. Maybe all the photos aren’t pretty.
Street photographs can show us the difficult as well as the joyful. It’s a mirror up, showing us ourselves, and letting us look longer at things we don’t like to see.
It’s a reminder of who we are and where we came from.
And it reminds us to look longer at those that maybe we don’t want to see.
Street photography is vital photojournalism of life in our time. Photographs of ways that will not always be as they are today.
That’s why they’re essential. To not forget where we came from.
To not erase our past.