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"STREET PHOTOGRAPHY: THE ULTIMATE GOAL"



by Genghis









STAN AT STREET PHOTOGRAPHER

"But I also think it shows you're a bit of a wuss yourself.....If all you can do is 'hit and run' photography, then that probably means you're the typical "conservative" who knows how to start a war, but has no desire to fight in one (eg Dick 5 Deferments Cheney or Rush OOOO My Aching Chest Limbaugh)......The best moments I've had during street photograpy is when I've created a confrontation that led to more interaction...."

Stan R.


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Let me preface my remarks by stating unequivocally, that I consider Stan a friend whom I respect greatly not only as an effective street photographer, but also as a person who has the right to express whatever political views he wishes---which should be abundantly obvious, are the polar opposite of my views. Having said that, I must draw the inescapable conclusion that Stan is somewhat misguided regarding the ultimate goal in street photography. The ultimate goal in street photography is to obtain the street composition that you want, not to...."....create a confrontation that leads to more interaction..." I also feel that Stan is also confusing the separate issues of street photographic technique and political partisanship. In actuality, they have nothing to do with each other.

Returning to the relevant issue of what the ultimate goal of street photography should be, here's what I believe. The ultimate goal of street photography is not to spark a fight. The ultimate goal in street photography is not to generate more confrontation, which I feel is counterproductive and panders to one's own overblown sense of drama after the desired street photo is obtained---but to make the exposure, pure and simple. Stan misses the point of walking away from a street subject's futile protestations that he or she was photographed with out being aksed for permission. The point is that the protest doesn't matter. As I stated in a previous article, embarking on a debate with the subject about the finer legal points regarding public domain photography rights versus privacy rights, is not only a waste of time, but also makes the photographer appear weak, defensive and indecisive---therefore generating more bravado on the subject's part in escalating his or her anger and indignation. This is a vacillation borne of insecurity. It is an inevitability that such an approach increases a subject's poor attitude. A hotheaded argument with a street photo subject may satisfy one's sense of righteousness or even one's subconscious need for an adrenaline rush fueled by adversarial relations, but it does zero for achieving what should be the ultimate goal of street photography, which is to get the shot. On the other hand, if the photographer acts with a palpable sense of entitlement, as though he or she has the right to take anyone's picture no matter what the subject thinks, then most subjects will perceive that to be the case. A street photographer should be a coolheaded psychoanalyst in some respects. A street photographer should act as though he owns the street. As far as "confrontation" is concerned, the ultimate escalation in this context is the transformation from verbal expression to physical interaction. If this is the "interaction" that a street photographer is seeking, then perhaps that photographer needs to reorder his or her priorities at best, and ought to look into anger management therapy at worst.

Let me draw some cogent analogies from my martial arts teaching experience. Frankly, it is a beginner's white belt level mistake to feel so passionately about starting confrontations, and the deep-seated need to answer every meaningless verbal challenge with the desire to physically punish the perceieved antagonist. With one's advancement in the combat arts, once one becomes proficient at fighting, then it is easy to feel dispassionately regarding walking away from empty verbal vitriol. Another analogy is the mistake of being extremely emotional when driving. Whenever I drive, I never take honking horns, drivers flipping me the bird or even cutting me off personally. Road rage is the end result of an emotional approach to driving a car. One should never take insults from either car drivers or street photography subjects personally. One should be dispassionate about one's opponent when fighting, dispassionate regarding angry responses from other drivers, and should be equally unemotional about negative reactions from street subjects about having their pictures taken. Anything less than this ideal approach, makes it no longer about street photography, but about one's emotional state. Once one's emotional state becomes the primary concern, then the ultimate goals of street photography aren't being met appropriately. In street photography as in combat, being dispassionately objective maximizes one's technique.

The analogy of the training level of the combat artist indicating a more mature response to meaningless verbal volleys as it relates to how a street photographer should react to...."You shouldn't have taken my picture without asking...", is a good one. The trained martial artist knows how to evaluate the threat level, and how to calibrate an appropriate reaction accordingly. A effective martial artist should have a "killer instinct" switch in his head, that allows him to implement deadly force without anger once a threat level is assessed to be real on a physical level. Killing or maiming techniques should be executed with conviction and the full force of one's technique, but without anger. Anger merely clouds one's technical judgement. It is the same with street photography situations. If someone grabs you after you take the picture, in my view you have the right to incapacitate that person. However, a weak protest by someone who didn't like to have his picture taken, should not be an invitation to "create a confrontation...." An experienced street photographer is like being a trained martial artist---there are certain responsibilities in the position. I can honestly say that I've encountered perhaps two such weak protests at the most in the last five years while street shooting. I've never run into anything more serious than that. I attitribute this low incidence of anger from street subjects, to my technique, which includes an overwhelmingly dominant demeanor as well as the responsibility to not create more anger, once an angry protest occurs. Being good at fighting engenders a responsibility on the part of the trained martial artist toward the antagonist who suffers a distinct disadvatage. That responsibility requires in part in my view, that the trained person not consciously escalate an emotional situation. That is what I always told my combat arts students. If my students were unable to avoid further confrontation and the situation did escalate into a fight, then I told my students that they not only had the right, but the obligation---to hurt and maim their opponent as badly as possible. This is a lesson that should be extended to street photographers. The responsibility of the street photographer is to achieve the ultimate goal, which is to obtain the exposure that one wants, whether that street photographer drives a Volvo, or a rip-snortin' stroker Harley-Davidson.

FINITO