The prying lens of the photographer

A few days ago I was in Alexandra township for a photowalk and one of the things I had an opportunity to reflect on was my approach to the people I photograph. I have never really been comfortable with the idea that just because someone is in the street that you automatically have a right to photograph them. Secondly, while I know that asking people for permission may destroy that perfect shot opportunity I think it is vital. I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with a stranger coming up to within 1m of me and shooting with their serious DSLR without having asked my permission first. Of course the first few minutes are awkward as the peson tries to pose and stiffens up, but once you have established some rapport – which can be done even quickly – you will be able to get a good shot again without compromising that person’s right to privacy.

It is not an easy issue whichever way you think about it – in the end do the people you photograph really understand the implication of having their photo taken – where and how it will be used? I do not have an answer, afterall I am guilty of doing this too, but as a photographer it is easy to get carried away thinking that everything out there exists for you to photograph.

I experience this feeling of discomfort sometimes when we are on work-related visits in townships and rural villages – most people are too polite to ever refuse you entry into their home or their life but expecting someone to open up, to really tap into their feelings and emotions, just so you can get a story often doesn’t feel right. Even if that story will be used for good – to raise awareness or to motivate for action on a certain issue from the powers that be. I would love to know how other photographers or writers feel about this?

2 thoughts on “The prying lens of the photographer”

  1. I was recently kicked out of a church because the pastor didn’t like my views about church in general that I have written about on my blog. I used a couple of examples of incidents that took place in that church to enhance my points about religion. Keep in mind that I deliberately kept his name and the name of his church out of the blog as well as people’s actual names. He still found what I wrote offensive enough to tell me to never come back to his church. I felt like my rights to free speech were infringed upon by this man when I thought what I was doing was helpful to my readers. I guess you can’t help how people are going to respond to whatever material you publish. So I keep publishing with a clear conscience.

    1. That’s a very unfortunate incident but I guess you will always encounter people like that and I’m sure you will be able to find a better Chruch. I think that so long as you have that clear conscience than that’s all you can do. Good luck.

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