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by Genghis


Street photography is not for the faint of heart, or for those whose delicate sensibilities lead them to worry about the civil or constitutional rights of terrorists. You know the type I'm talking about. Photographers who wear earth tones, drive Volvos and hug trees. I used to frequent a general photography website where if I posted one of my street pictures---pictures typically taken at an arm's length of three feet from the subject---the responses from the photographers there would consist of variations of two whining refrains:

(1) "That subject looks like he (or she) wants to hit you."
(2) "Did you get a model's release from that subject?"

To that I'd respond...."I don't care."

Would they like a crying towel and a cup of hot chocolate? My response to their responses would mortify and offend them to no end, never mind the sensibility shock these photographers would be at the receiving end of if they actually ventured out onto the streets and confronted photographic subjects at a distance of two and a half to ten feet. That would never happen of course. If photographers like these ever attempted street photography, they'd elect for the coward's way out and shoot with a 300mm lens so that potential subjects would be completely unaware of their presence. That's why photographic websites are rife with landscapes, pictures of flowers, dogs and babies. These are safe subject matter. I read between the lines, though. I feel that the indignation that these photographers demonstrate regarding the "rights" of street photography subjects, masks the true reason for their overly concerned demeanor: They're scared. Scared to walk up to a complete stranger with a camera, stop three feet away and take his or her picture. It's as simple as that. Human nature being what it is, this fear within these photographers must be expressed as sympathy or compassion. After all, rationalization to protect one's self-image is a natural defensive mechanism.

I believe that I have the perfect personality for street photography. Having been a member of the biker subculture since 1968 when I got my first Harley-Davidson, I'm an antisocial loner even within an antisocial culture. I'd rather ride alone, just my righteous stroker Harley 74 "Mabel" and me, on the roads in the dead of early morning---not seeing other bikers. I used to write for a hardcore publication called Iron Horse magazine, where my controversial monhtly columns would bring death threats from bikers of every stripe---and the occasional bullet accompanying mad missives. My response?

I don't care.

I used to be a writer for Black Belt, Karate-Kung Fu Illustrated and Martial Arts Training magazines, where my tell it like it is articles describing other martial arts schools as "soft, commercial ventures" where non-contact sparring was the order of the day---brought threats of retribution, and "We're gonna come down to your school and kick your butt....". My response? I thereafter published the address of my combat arts school in the Lower East Side of New York City. Guess what? Nobody ever showed up. In other words, I don't care. I didn't care because I taught a particularly hardcore martial art where we sparred with bare knuckles and no protective equipment every day.

If I didn't care in the face of death threats from white supremacist bikers and ticked-off martial arts school owners, why should I care if a street photography subject voices displeasure at being photographed? No, street photography is not for the faint of heart, or those with overflowing sensibilities who wring their hands regarding the feelings of street photography subjects. In truth though, I get very little negative feedback from street subjects. My approach is so direct and so quick, that psychologically, the majority of street subjects can't really process the fact that a photographer just walked up to thirty-six inches from their faces, took their pictures and then nonchalantly walked away. These subjects hide in the delusion provided by denial. Demeanor and technique are everything.

Street photographers who have the most trouble from subjects exhibit the following: Hesitance and furtiveness. If you act sneaky or shy, then you're a marked photographer. If a photographer simply walks up with a confident attitude---but I admit to at times acting as menacing as possible, because that's my normal demeanor anyway---then the subject's attitude is more or less neutralized. A confrontation between a photographer and a subject is no different than any confrontation between people on the street. The psychology of it is interesting. The inherent and demonstrable strength of the dominant personality will exert the will of the dominant personality over passive or subservient personalities, in almost every instance. There is an old martial arts parable that applies here: Two masters meet on a street in China to fight. Before the fight begins, both of them already knows who will win. The fight is won before it even begins. The street photographer does have the advantage of surprise, however. Most street subjects are passive because they don't expect confrontation, especially confrontation from extremely short distances. And as I said, they can't process such bold acts as taking strangers' pictures from three feet away. This is not in their minds "normal" societal behavior where one's personal space is routinely respected.

On those rare occasions when a street subject says right after I've taken his or her picture...."You should ask before you take my picture....".....I don't react the typical way. Typically, photographers will go into their "This is a public street, public domain according to the law if you will. Therefore, I don't have to ask...." quasi-legal argument. This milquetoast reaction in itself will signal weakness on the photographer's part, and will usually prolong and exacerbate the confrontation---because this will embolden subjects to argue more and vent their anger. My reaction is to walk away on those rare occasions when a subject will protest. I treat their protests as meaningless, because they are. Moreover, I don't care. I admit it. I have a mean streak a mile wide, and am not reluctant to demonstrate it or act on it. These, are the tools of an effective street photographer. Later.