Monday, June 9, 2014

BEING SEEN: Sometimes it Makes the Moment

Smiling for the Camera (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

One feature of my street and documentary work is that I don't go along with a lot of the current "wisdom" about how it's done, how to behave on the street and the rest. Of course, we are all unique beings and each need to learn our own way, all need to find our own way of living and our own vision.

Take this photo for an example. Made on my first outing into the CBD of Melbourne this week. I saw this couple who, when I looked, were in their own little world. I made one image. And, rather than walk quickly away (as per received wisdom) I walked just a couple of steps and I waited with the camera to my eye. Then they both turned and looked at me with these "poses" (sorry another bad word in some circles), and I just instinctively pressed the shutter. And, here you see the result: a lovely portrait of a couple happy with themselves and each other. And, importantly, with being photographed (oops, another myth: people hate being photographed).

The first image I made works too, I think. An unguarded moment that just asked to be preserved. Here it is:

A Loving Couple (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Now, these photos are very different: in the second one, the couple is completely unaware (at least on a conscious level) of my presence; in the first they have actually seen me. And, yes, it is true to say that my presence and my camera has caused a changed in their behavior. They are in a sense posing for the camera.

So, they are different photos. But, is one better than the other? I don't mean in technical terms; that's an area for someone else to debate. You see, I don't believe for a minute that the first image here is more or less of a valuable human moment than the second, despite the second being the more "candid" one in the accepted sense.

I think candid is a misunderstood, or rather an incompletely understood, concept in today's world of street photography. The common perception is that it means that the subjects of a photograph are completely unaware of the camera's presence. Of course that definition is valid in itself, but, to look at the dictionary definitions of the word, then the meaning is not so black and white (no pun intended. But it is funny though LOL).

The Free Dictionary (which I like to use for obvious reasons) includes this:
Candid as an adjective means:
      1. frank; outspoken; open and sincere
      2. free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward

The definition also includes the idea of a candid photo being "unposed". And, it is true that these two struck a kind of pose when they saw me and my camera. So, for many the second image is a candid, while the first is not. Okay, they are posing. But, really, don't you think it's a frank and open one? Do they seem sincere to you? Do they look to you to be acting in an unreserved manner and do they appear to be free of disguise?  Have they taken what you wold think of as a straightforward pose?

The answer to all these questions for me is a big yes.

Also, and as importantly, my approach to this scene (as it usually is) was a candid one. It is I think a matter of one's intention. I mean by this that I don't intend to have people see me or pose or change their behavior.  My attitude and approach is frank and open; I do not hide; I do not engage in "stealthy" behavior or "subterfuge" of any kind. I always try to be straightforward in both my way of being in the street and in my dealings with the people who do see me, and most of the time they are the same with me! The bottom line is that I always endeavor to be frank, outspoken (as in honest and speaking my truth), open and sincere in the way I approach my work and the people I am fortunate enough to photograph.

Of course, this is all just my opinion. But, it is my way of working and it does, well, work pretty much all the time. I think today's two photographs both have something to offer.  Yes, they are different, but they are both candid in their own way. Anyway, isn't it our role as street and social documentary photographers to record the so-called ordinary people going about their so-called ordinary lives?

Well, I think it is.



  1. The conflict, probably since Atget, of stealing a photo (Paparazzi?) or making human contact, no matter how brief. As a rule I ask for permission to take a picture of someone whom I find interesting, although sometimes, I grab a moment because there is no time to be polite. As you know, when you are noticed you are often rewarded with a shy smile.

    1. Yes indeed. There is this idea that people hate being photographed and of course some do. But on the whole I've found the opposite to be the case. I rarely ask How do you find people react?

  2. Very interesting post, Paul. As you said, there are so many different point of views. As a beginner, I am easy to get confused. It would be so nice if we (beginners) can follow each one of you for one day to see how it works. ;-) Helen

  3. Thanks Helen I know what you mean,. But you know I've found looking at too many people gets too confusing. Ive tried to just follow my own visionTo be honest I really just like sharing my vision with others


I welcome any comments, questions, suggestions. The floor is yours! Sharing is a huge part of my philosophy, so please, share your thoughts with us