The Uncomfortable Truth About Street Photography

As someone who has photographed people candidly since I first picked up a camera over 15 years ago, there is something that needs to be said to everyone that is interested in street photography.

Yes, what we’re doing has importance, whether through the angle of documenting history, noticing interesting moments, fostering ideas, or creating art. These photographs will have cultural value to them in the future, and most of us capture culture and humanity because we like them. We like people. We like to people watch.

Many photographers have been drawn to this genre before even realizing that it has a name, and this helps us realize that this way of viewing the world is instinctive to some people. It comes naturally. I remember picking up my first camera in New York. I could have easily looked up at the tall skyscrapers and epic architecture, and I did and still do, but the people walking around seemed just as fascinating.

Yes, it’s legal, at least if you’re in the United State and Britain. Yes, it’s within our rights to do this in public, and to share these images as art and for cultural purposes. No, it doesn’t make us bad people.

Street photography will make some people uncomfortable

But no, everything that I just mentioned does not completely free us from culpability out there. We have to consider that the practice of street photography can be inherently uncomfortable to our subjects. Some will understand what we are doing, but others will be weirded out by a stranger capturing a photo of them suddenly in public, whether it is in an obvious or a more candid way. Morality, cultural importance, and the good things that we are trying to create should all be put aside here, so that you realize there is a tradeoff going on. We are creating uncomfortable situations for others.

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