the picture angle | what kind of a world do we live in…
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what kind of a world do we live in…

March 15, 2014  •  Leave a Comment
throngs by antje b.
throngs, a photo by antje b. on Flickr.

… sometimes I wonder. We are so liberated. Democracy. Women allowed to vote, in some countries not even for a century, yet nobody bothers to go and vote anymore. Sex education in schools. Drugs on the NHS. Equal pay act since the 70ies, yet who really cares women still earn less for the same work? Covering your face in court for religious reasons causing a nationwide debate.

Yet… yet… it would seem that wearing clothes that cover your face might actually become fashionable again to exercise your right to privacy. Unless you want to rely on non-sensical laws like the one just passed today in Hungary.

According to this new law, it is a civil offence to take pictures in public without obtaining the consent of everyone who is in the frame. Leaving aside the practicalities of it, I have quite some issues with this.

1) I won’t labour the CCTV point too much, others have done it much better than I could.

2) Street photography for the vast majority of people engaged in it is not voyeurism. It is documenting life. Life means people. And to all of you who hate your picture taken, it isn’t even about you per se. You mostly serve no other purpose than to give context. It could be just for scale. You, I’m afraid, are often reduced to merely a few lines that add visual interest to an otherwise lifeless architectural scene. Sorry to burst your bubble of self-importance.

3) If you are more than a visual element in a good picture then chances are it still isn’t about you personally. If you are sitting on a bench sipping a latte and reading a newspaper with people dashing past, the photographer most likely comments on the human condition of restlessness, and you actually serve as the conceptual juxtaposition to that. You have become a symbol of one particular aspect of human nature.

4) No true street photographer is setting out to take pictures that embarrass or demean the subject. However, if you have been captured picking your nose, even then it is not necessarily about you but most likely a visual social commentary on the breakdown of etiquette. Your mum should have taught you not to cut your fingernails in public, and if you still do it and don’t mind being seen (let alone recorded on CCTV) then I fail to see how a photograph could cause offence.

(edited) Summarising the preceding points so far: a street photographer wants to tell a story. That story is not about you, unless you both have agreed on this in advance and you know the deal. But then it’s no longer quite street photography. Usually you are an anonymous (to the photographer) element in the story s/he wants to tell. You are also a random element in the sense that any other person standing like you, moving like you, being in the same place in the frame as you, responding like you to the situation in place, responding differently to the situation from you, would have done, and probably has. In that sense, you are being used but definitely not with malicious intent but by people who are passionate about telling stories that I am sure you enjoy, as long as it’s not you, or after reading this maybe because it is you, in them. None of this is personal, please don’t take offence. (edited)

5) I wonder what future generations are going to make of the legacy we leave behind. All these vain attempts to integrate what doesn’t even want to be integrated, and in the process ruddering ourselves right back to the Dark Ages. Sit in the back row in university auditoriums for lectures on a particular religion, if this religion demands such, and our laws will bow to this voluntary intra-religious gender segregation for the sake of societal integration, even if it flies in the face of its own ambition plus a century of finally fruitful struggle for women’s rights here.

Sorry, this just slipped in. Back to the point. So will our photography of this age show a) a world without people, b) a world with people who have all been made unrecognisable or c) a vibrant, cosmopolitan era still full of pain, joy, isolation, togetherness, love and hate and other human afflictions, describing better than ever before how we relate to the world around us? How do you want future generations (possibly your offspring among them) to view our age? Will we be known as the stupid people back then who came up with the technology to make life-like representations of our world, gave everybody access to it, and then outlawed its use? Why have we, who are supposedly so enlightened, created taboos even more petty than that old one of not talking about sex?

6)  So, what is next? No more written news about identifiable people, either?

7)  Or street fashion that will see people exercise their liberty not to be identified. So voluntary burqas for everyone, men and women alike. Plus the vitamin D deficiency that goes along with it. I for one will be the first street photographer out there to use that as a visual commentary on our ’free’ society.



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