Street Photography: Humanity

December 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in the tri-State area, not unlike when Katrina hit New Orleans and many southern states, or the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Aside from the physical destruction there was another level to the devastation — the emotional.  People were walking around shell-shocked.

Being a street photographer, I am a witness with a camera.  My concern is that I do not mechanically take photographs without humanity, sensitivity and compassion.

A new acquaintance of mine, who is a photojournalist, told me a story of people who went to Red Hook and were snapping (I use that word intentionally) pictures of residents directly after the storm.  One man was sitting slumped in front of his apartment house.  He had just discovered everything he possessed was destroyed.  Someone came along, snapped his picture, and kept on going.  The man was hurt, aghast.  I don’t blame him!  No one wants to be exploited by an uncaring stranger stumbling through their neighborhood and their life during a tragic time.

On the other hand, there was a photographer in Staten Island who was asked by many community residents if she would take photos of their homes so they would have a voice.  So the world would see what had happened.  She did and they were thankful.

David Hurn, On Being a Photographer, gives the following advice to photographers:

Eliminate those subjects about which you are ignorant, at least until you have conducted a good deal of research into the topic.  For example, you are not contributing anything to the issue of urban poverty by wandering back streets and snatching pictures of derelicts in doorways.  That’s exploitation, not exploration.

Or, as Cartier-Bresson is quoted as saying, “putting one’s head, one’s heart and one’s eye on the same axis,” is for me what street photography is all about.

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