I used to snap pictures of strangers all the time. A cool “cultural” scene would present itself and I would sneak in with my camera and try to grab the moment. At first, I didn’t think about it. Then I realized that some of the faces my “subjects” were making communicated a disgruntled attitude. I had subjected them to cultural paparazzi.
In an attempt to assuage my guilt and still get cool shots I began snapping photos of the backs of people. Didn’t work. I still felt like a weirdo.
So then I started to ask permission to take photos. Generally the responses were divided into two categories:
2. This is how much I charge to have my photo taken.
This made me evaluate the whole concept of photographing strangers. I decided to take a break from taking photos of strangers based on two points of logic.
#1 Even though it has happened, I don’t like it when people single out my children and take pictures with them because of their light colored skin. (Sidenote: ironic that my children with very strong black roots would be singled out because of their lightness.) I imagine that most people would feel the same way about my lens on their lives.
#2 Also, I came to the conclusion that I would not take pictures in my home culture of strangers who caught my eye at, for example, Walmart. I am not a fan of those who do, I am aware of the site and my comparison is deliberate. So why would I do that in my host culture that has graciously extended me a welcome?
Now, when taking pictures of strangers I feel like the strange one.
Every so often I get a nod of approval and an image like the following is the result. In the meanwhile, I will content myself with shots of people I know, nature, cityscapes, and still life compositions.
What are your thoughts on the topic of photographing strangers? Do you have a photography code of ethics? I would love to hear some input.