I went out and “attempted” some street photography today. This is something that’s been on my mind a long time: at least a couple of years, but increasingly so these last couple of months. It’s been gnawing at my mind, really getting at me.
My reasoning goes something like this: I want to take photos of people, they are the most interesting types of photo, the most appealing, because humans are the things which appeal most to other humans. I’ve had some limited success taking pictures of my own family, but cute though Rowan and Lola are, there’s only so many outfits/expressions/situations I’m likely to catch them in, and eventually things get a little tired. So I would really like to expand my “people pool”, get photos of some other human beings.
Also, of course, street photography makes one look around, try to be continually aware, and that’s something I’m very keen to cultivate.
But I’ve never quite understood street photography is “done”, how one deals with one’s subjects without pissing them off, how one captures a natural pose. I could see two possibilities: either go up to people in the street, ask to take photos of them, then take the photos; or sneakily take a shot without asking, ideally without even being seen. I now know that both are commonly used strategies.
So, last week when I was in London I determined to follow the less intrusive of route of asking people to pose for me, perhaps present them with one of my new business cards to reassure them. Ha! Some chance! I chickened out, didn’t speak to a single soul, got back to Sheffield feeling very lonely (and then nearly got my camera nicked, but that’s another story).
Once again, my haul was pathetic. About the only thing half worth keeping was the image on the right, a clip from a much larger snapshot which I like to call “This is Harcourt” and is really more “through the window photography” than street photography. But as for confronting people, one-on-one, sticking that wide-angle lens right in their face and snapping away uninvited: no chance.
I bottled out every time. And ended up psychoanalysing myself, probably far more than necessary but what the hell.
A while back, when I was seeing a counsellor, I said that I often felt shy and unable to bring myself to do things. She asked for an example, and I said that I couldn’t got up to people in the street and photograph them. She looked at me as if I were slightly mad, which for somebody whose job is to make me out as being less mad than I feel is not a good look, and told me that she was sure very few people would have the courage to do such a thing, and she wasn’t even sure that it was an ethical thing to do anyway. Well, of course she was more-or-less right, and it was a bad example for me to choose, but I still feel that this is part of a problem I suffer from more than most. I think it has to do with a fear of rejection, or of being challenged and finding myself unable to provide an adequate account. I know that the majority of people probably feel similarly, but I do think that it’s stronger in me than in most, but that I have a willpower which just occasionally, when my need to do something is overwhelming, manages to overcome it. It’s this “shyness” (to describe it using far too simple a term) which means that I have only once in my life found the courage to ask a girl out, even though I knew that many other times I could do so without any real risk to myself. It’s the knowledge that a tiny risk exists which prevents me from putting myself in the firing line. And for the same reason, I daren’t poke a camera in somebody’s face because I know that they have the right to object, even if they will rarely do so.
A second aspect of this: I think part of my fear, call it “the fear of the 1%”, arises from the fact that confronting other humans in this way does not lead to predictable outcomes. I’ve always been happiest working in fields where a discrete input leads to a discrete output: one reason I so enjoy working with computers is because, complex and infuriating though they often are, everything ultimately makes sense, everything depends upon rules. Human beings aren’t quite like that (or at the very least, they are like that but in infinitely more complex ways). I have never been entirely comfortable in social situations, never felt as if I have a good enough grasp of the “rules of the game”. I put this down to a type of borderline autism which I think affects a sizeable chunk of the male population. Despite years trying, learning, adapting, I still don’t feel entirely at ease dealing with living wetware.
I would feel happier doing street photography if I could, as John Brownlow says, “look like a pro, look like you’re meant to be there”. I don’t feel like a pro, I don’t feel like I’m meant to be there, I’m not confident enough of my own photographic skills, and I know that it shows.
Sooner or later I will overcome this barrier and start photographing strangers, and I think that it will have a greater effect on my personality, it will make me more confident and decisive in other areas too. Perhaps that is why I really feel this need to shoot pictures in more of a “risky” environment, not because I want the pictures but because I think the experience will make me a better person. For the meantime however, perhaps I should just aim a little lower?