I took a couple of days off this week and was able to spend some time just shooting without the need to be somewhere else. Not feeling the pressure of time freed me up to be creative and patient, and I believe the images reflect that creativity and patience. Having the luxury of time totally transforms the street shooting process. Standing in one spot for twenty minutes waiting for the right shot to come to me is not something I’m able to do ordinarily. What a treat it was.
Yesterday I packed along my X-Pro 1 with 35mm and my X100 for a walk from City Hall to Bush and Market via the Tenderloin. I took my time. Watched what was going on. Soaked it all in. I hadn’t walked that way before.
I noticed I was being followed and photographed repeatedly by a very animated young woman with a cell phone camera. She approached me at the corner of Turk and Hyde and asked (I’d have said demanded, but the conversation turned out fine) in a very suspicious manner what I was doing, why I was taking pictures. What I did with the photographs once I’d shot them. If I was working with the Po-lice.
It was a conversation that will stick with me for awhile because it was the first time that I had had to explain what street photography was to someone who had absolutely no idea what it meant, what it was or why anyone would take photographs of strangers doing seemingly mundane things.
To her, I was a threat. What I was saying didn’t make sense, or she didn’t initially believe me. I hadn’t taken her photo either before or after the encounter, but it was obvious she was looking out for her neighborhood and I had nothing to hide, so I was open and friendly and took the time to talk with her.
I told her that I liked taking photographs of people just living their lives, going from here to there, and of people whom I thought looked interesting. That I didn’t photograph homeless or destitute people, that it was a hobby and something I’d done for years for fun, to pass the time and to help me remember what I’d seen when I’d been out walking. That I loved the city and loved being in the middle of it. She said that all back to me at every pause in my explanation, perhaps believing me. Her body language got less and less aggressive until finally she said good bye and we went our own ways.
I’m not an aggressive street photographer in the first place and I always ‘read the room’ in terms of neighborhood and vibe so as not to rile the locals. Whatever she saw that made her approach me, I thought it was worth the time it took to reassure her that I wasn’t up to anything nefarious. Nothing happens in a vacuum and I believe that it’s important in situations like that one to just be respectful and friendly and move on. Your mileage may vary, heh.
With all of that having been said, I only took 2 or 3 photographs in the Tenderloin – the one of the two boys running along the barricade in front of the Federal Building and of the gent wearing a Pacific Trail jacket with the Emerson quote about leaving a trail. It was a great day, and the encounter with the young woman – which could have spoiled the entire experience – served to make me feel better about what I do, why I do it and how.
Hope you enjoy.