I reflected on street photography and privacy, yesterday. It’s probably my German heritage that further stresses these issues. Germany has very strong privacy laws, even for European standards. Regarding photos this materializes in the legal right to your own image. Essentially: You have to ask people when you want to take public images of them and you are not allowed to publish them without their consent. (You might even be forced to delete a picture if they want you to.) It’s a tough law for street photographers, especially as it shaped a culture of skepticism or even aversion of being photographed in public. “If I see someone taking an image of me, I’ll tell them something!” I have heard men tell me. (In my pre-street photography days.)
Personally, I think the laws and even more the culture is excessive or even paranoid. (Especially as it doesn’t prevent the surveillance it mainly aims at.) I say this not only as a photographer. I think ideas like these create weird expectations towards public and private personae. To put it bluntly: Many Germans are naive when it comes to acting in public, which leads to shyness and retreat – both of which is sad. (I hope you can tell that I am talking about my own learning journey here.)
Which brings us to the group in the pictures. I was very hesitant to photograph them – I want to be careful with minors and taking pictures of a group of young girls in uniforms felt… really weird. But then, I suddenly realized they were waving at me and gesturing towards the camera: They liked to be photographed! (And not only once.) I even got some of their phones to take images they could share with their boyfriends who later arrived by ferry.
So, talking about the question whether or not to take images and whether it’s worth to “destroy the moment” yesterday, today’s reflection is much simpler: Often, when you think you destroy a moment, you are doing it wrong. Why not connect to your subjects first?
(Pulling the shadows and emphasizing the golden hour. This is meant to be a bit cheesy.)