When discretion is the better part of valour

Jeremy Brooks was walking around when he came upon a man yelling at a homeless person. Jeremy took the man’s photo. The man objected. What should you do?

2473047860_07b7be6cc9 The photo and here’s Jeremy’s website: http://www.whirljack.net/jeremybrooks/


I was a press photographer for many years. I’ve covered shootings (live and after the event), fires, evacuations, explosions, fights, traffic fatalities…well you get the point. I always felt like I was intruding into people’s personal lives when I took photographs of them in public situations. Sometimes they objected. (I had one guy who I photographed at an event who was with someone he shouldn’t have been with and I graciously decided not to run the image.) And sometimes they objected forcefully.

My overriding concern in those situations was my personal safety. I made efforts not to expose myself to undue danger or threat. That’s not to say I ever walked away from a news situation. I was known as a very aggressive press photographer who wouldn’t accept the orders of some cop yelling about not being allowed to take photos in public.

This is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Press freedom (freedom of the press) is a right that’s not just granted to the media. It applies to us all. Since we have this freedom we are also charged with exercising so responsible judgement.

In Jeremy’s situation, based only on what I’ve read, the man started to direct his attention on Jeremy once he saw his photo was being taken. An argument followed. Some threats were made. For me, this is an unacceptable level of threat.

Now you’re always going to hear some people say something like we shouldn’t be taking photos of people in public places but that goes back to the freedom to do what we like so long as it isn’t against the criminal code or city bylaws. The fact that somebody doesn’t want their photo taken is irrelevant to the law but may not be irrelevant to the concepts of social decorum.

If I was a press photographer, I’d be asking myself what is the public good being served by taking this photo. Personally I’d say not much.

If the homeless person was being assaulted I’d say a photo would be useful as evidence if an arrest was forthcoming and a charge was laid.

As an amateur photographer (one who takes photos for the love of photography) or as a photographic artist I’d ask myself if this was something I’d want on my wall and come up with the answer – for me – that I’d pass.

Yes the interaction is visual simulating. Yes it happens in public but for me it comes down to why. And the why not’s (This guy could be dangerous or armed with a deadly weapon.) outweigh the why’s by a long shot.



The Flickr Effect

I was reading somebody’s blog (sorry I can’t remember which blog as I’ve now got Google Reader collecting 400 messages a day and I only read the ones that seem interesting and then I either tag them in delicious http://del.icio.us/peterwestphoto or I toss them into the garbage pail) and this person said that despite all the photos going up on Flickr (and I’ve heard numbers suggesting tens of thousands of images a day) the overall effect has not made photography any better.

I comes down to these truths:

  • It’s not the camera (I’ve seen great shots taken with a pin-hole camera by an artist in England)
  • It’s not the lens (Some of the best photojournalism was taken with a 35mm F2 lens on a Leica rangefinder camera)
  • It’s not whether it’s film or digital (4X5 is a nice format and so is DX digital)
  • It’s not the software program (You can do amazing things in software but for me, this isn’t photography)
  • It’s not whether you’re a pro or an amateur (Amateurs (as in to something for the love of it) often take exquisite photos
  • It’s not in how many frames you shoot (You only need one. That’s how many Ansel Adams got of his Moonrise over Hernandez shot
  • It doesn’t matter where you are (Photos are everywhere)
  • The time of day doesn’t matter (see above)

Now all of these things help but it all comes down to whether or not you can “see” a photo when it presents itself before you.

Some people have a natural talent that allows them to “see” the possibilities of a photo when they look around. Others, like myself, have to train their eye to “see”. It’s best to do this with a camera in hand at all times to capture that “Kodak” moment (there’s a phrase which will go out of existence pretty soon). That’s why we invented point-and-shoot cameras that fit into a shirt pocket.

Go out and shoot something right now 🙂