Why you shouldn’t do street photography: the problem of ethics and representation
Street photography is important, versatile, and in my opinion – one of the most challenging genres there is. But there are some problems with street photography that largely revolve around ethics. In his latest video, Jamie Windsor talks about these problems and discusses the situations when it’s best not to pick up your camera.
Jamie argues that, in the modern era, candid street photography can be a powerful tool to strip the façade we build about us on social media. It can show the society as it is, without filters, without faking. It is also a documentation of history, of particular places and particular periods. These are some of the reasons why street photography is important and why we should do it.
However, there are some issues that go hand-in-hand with street photography. The issue of privacy is often debated, but a more serious matter is ethics and the representation of our subjects. It’s legal in most countries to take photos of strangers in the street, but just because something is legal, it doesn’t mean it’s always ethical.
Jamie gives a few great examples of street and documentary photography, and they include the works of Fan Ho and Nan Goldin. These photographers have lived the lives they’re portraying and they embed their personal experiences into their work. So this made Jamie wonder: can you accurately represent a culture that you’re not a part of? How much of an insight can you actually offer? This raises the previously mentioned question of the representation of our subjects of street photography.
An example Jamie relies on is a recent viral video, and in his opinion, it sums the problem present in a lot of street photography works. In this video, a man is shaving on the New York subway and it may seem like a humorous situation to the viewer. However, the truth behind the “funny” video is that the man was trying to clean up after spending a few days in a homeless shelter.
According to Jamie, this video is the essence of what can be a serious problem with street photography. When we see the person for a fleeting moment in the street, we know nothing about them and their life story. We’re limited by our own experiences. The assumptions we make could be completely wrong. So, Jamie believes we should try and get to know our subjects and form an empathetic connection with them. This could give us a more accurate representation of their personality.
Finally, Jamie believes and I agree that empathy is the greatest tool we can use to determine what’s ethical and what’s not. We need to put ourselves into other people’s shoes before making assumptions and snapping a photo based on them. Ask yourself what your motives and if taking that photo will make you feel uneasy. Be brutally honest yourself with the answer. And if your gut feeling tells you not to do it – then it might be best to just put your camera down.
[Why you SHOULDN’T do STREET PHOTOGRAPHY | Jamie Windsor]
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.