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Author Topic: Strategies for stealth on the street  (Read 9533 times)
kencameron
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« on: February 17, 2013, 03:18:44 PM »
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At the time Strand was preoccupied with the difficulty of how to use his bulky Ensign camera to take pictures of ‘people in the streets without their being aware of it’. How do you make your subjects blind to your presence? This is another reason why the photograph is emblematic: it provides a graphic illustration of the photographer’s ideal relationship to his subject. This was the aspect of the picture Strand stressed in an interview in 1971 (the same year that Evans reminisced about seeing it): ‘Although Blind Woman has enormous social meaning and impact, it grew out of a very clear desire to solve a problem.’ Strand’s solution was to take the lens from his uncle’s old view camera and fix it to one side of his own camera. He then held the camera in such a way that this false lens stuck straight ahead while the real lens, partly hidden by his sleeve, was focused at a right angle to the ostensible object of his attention. It may have been a clumsy solution—‘Do you know anyone who did it before? I don’t’—but this clumsiness was in keeping with everything about the cumbersome enterprise of photography at the time. And it worked.

Dyer, Geoff (2009-11-11). The Ongoing Moment (Kindle Locations 346-354). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Here is the picture Geoff Dyer is talking about. For me this gives rise to questions about what strategies, if any, do people use for stealth, and about the pros and cons of stealth (moral and aesthetic). No doubt a subject that has been canvassed before, so references to other threads would be welcome (he says, anticipating a rebuke from an elder).
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Gary Brown
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2013, 04:00:37 PM »
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There are a couple of essays on more or less that topic on this site:

Documentary and Street Photography

Street Photography in China
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kencameron
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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2013, 04:52:10 PM »
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There are a couple of essays on more or less that topic on this site:

Documentary and Street Photography

Street Photography in China
Interesting links, thanks. "Don't be sneaky", writes the author of the first. But he doesn't say much about why not, and there are plenty of examples, from Paul Strand onwards, of photographers who were sneaky and produced interesting work. What you often get in this area are statements which are essentially about people's personal practices but which have morphed into ex cathedra advice to everyone else. These are of some interest - as to the personal practices - but for me, something is missing when it comes to analysis. There is a whole line of argument in the context of the novel about writers who are ruthless in exploiting their families and friends as source material. Of course this doesn't translate directly to the present case, we aren't talking about photographing friends and family, but a similar question comes up - whether or not good art justifies behaviour which would otherwise be reprehensible. My main interest in starting the thread is to find out what people themselves do, and how they feel about it - although the theoretical discussions and the advice may also be interesting.
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Rob C
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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2013, 09:05:10 AM »
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Well, Ken, since you ask: I really don't like the idea of shooting people without their knowing in instances where they, the people themselves, become the primary subject. Often it can be as the butt of ridicule, of overweight (in a contemporary scenario especially) or even, as poor Diane A. used to do, of natural disasters of birth or circumstance.

I suspect that each of us already has a built-in moral compass that, followed, would prevent abuses of this sort, but it's possible that the marriage with photography lends such matters a taste of the hunt, and we all know how many animals died because of that glorious, deadly pastime.

Apart from the morality or otherwise, I simply don't have the cojones to confront people in the street in that manner; I know that I would hate to be so confronted... as far those bleats about 'then you should stay off the street', that's simply absurd and facile, nothing but an atempt at faux justification for selfishness and lack of common respect for others.

Having said which, I still enjoy seeing good 'street'. Especially do I like some of the work of William Klein: street fashion is cool - or was. Same genre but no victims.

Rob C
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Alan Klein
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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2013, 08:45:00 PM »
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The real question is how do you take pictures of strangers without feeling guilty about it?
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stamper
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2013, 02:55:54 AM »
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If you want to "practise" street photography then I suggest shooting political rallies. I have been doing this for about ten years with very little hostility. I have had more hostility shooting street the few times I have tried. Shooting political rallies means that the protesters expect to be photographed and 99% ignore the photographers even when they are in their face. A lot of police in attendance means very few would think about making a fuss. You can get very close or stand back with a long lens. You get the people interaction that happens on the street. In the ten years of shooting I have seen very little violence and in Scotland, where I live, the protesters are civilised and the police rarely antagonize them and vice versa. I also find it more productive than aimlessly wandering the streets. Smiley
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Rob C
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« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2013, 03:50:33 AM »
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If you want to "practise" street photography then I suggest shooting political rallies. I have been doing this for about ten years with very little hostility. I have had more hostility shooting street the few times I have tried. Shooting political rallies means that the protesters expect to be photographed and 99% ignore the photographers even when they are in their face. A lot of police in attendance means very few would think about making a fuss. You can get very close or stand back with a long lens. You get the people interaction that happens on the street. In the ten years of shooting I have seen very little violence and in Scotland, where I live, the protesters are civilised and the police rarely antagonize them and vice versa. I also find it more productive than aimlessly wandering the streets. Smiley



A better option would be to pop into Waterstone's instead.

;-)

Rob C
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Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2013, 03:52:12 AM »
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The real question is how do you take pictures of strangers without feeling guilty about it?


Really, you've defined the problem: one instinctively understands that it's intrusion.

Attempting to overcome conscience isn't going to change the nature of the act.

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2013, 06:56:51 AM »
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Street photography techniques vary from Strand's approach (shoot a blind woman; she won't notice) and various FSA photographers like Ben Shahn, with their right-angle viewfinders, all the way to Bruce Gilden, prancing down the street in a photographer's vest popping a speedlight in people's faces. But the most consistently successful street shooters have been people like HCB and Robert Frank who didn't try to be stealthy, didn't shoot blind people because they were blind, didn't use right-angle viewfinders, and most assuredly didn't use speedlights.

I've been doing street since 1953, and I've always approached it the same way those two approached it: blend in; smile; make yourself as un-threatening as possible; make it seem natural for you to be shooting a picture. Stick around until people get used to you being there with a camera in your hand. If you try for stealth, as soon as somebody notices you sneaking around you become threatening. In order to try for stealth you have to adopt an attitude that people can sense -- see, smell, feel? To me the best approach is the approach the Shadow took: cloud men's minds. Be invisible -- just a guy with a camera. It works.

Of course, if, like Rob, you feel guilty about shooting the picture, you're screwed. I suspect a guilt feeling is just as detectable by people around you as an attempt at stealth. If you feel guilty about shooting people on the street, go shoot landscape. Most landscapes don't seem to be self-conscious.
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Rob C
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2013, 07:51:15 AM »
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Of course, if, like Rob, you feel guilty about shooting the picture, you're screwed. I suspect a guilt feeling is just as detectable by people around you as an attempt at stealth. If you feel guilty about shooting people on the street, go shoot landscape. Most landscapes don't seem to be self-conscious.




That's very true: people can sense emotions, even if they are not exactly aware of what they sense...

It was the bane of looking for new work: the only time one was free to do it, as a self-employed person, was when one had no work. The sense of humiliation must have come through loud and clear; not the best way to face new prospects.

;-(

Rob C
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Isaac
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2013, 03:12:35 PM »
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... the most consistently successful street shooters have been people like HCB and Robert Frank who didn't try to be stealthy...

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Photographers and others who saw him work talked about his swift and nimble ability to snap a picture undetected. (Sometimes he even masked the shiny metal parts of his camera with black tape.)

Cartier-Bresson, Artist Who Used Lens, Dies at 95


« Last Edit: February 19, 2013, 03:18:28 PM by Isaac » Logged
Isaac
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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2013, 03:17:33 PM »
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The real question is how do you take pictures of strangers without feeling guilty about it?

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"I asked permission and she agreed to pose for me. I'm not very good at intruding in people's lives, and the way I work I really don't have to. I can ask for cooperation."

"I shot several rolls and then paid the woman for her time. I always offer to pay people when I photograph them. I make a point of that."

 p120, 121 Pete Turner: Photographs
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RSL
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« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2013, 03:35:45 PM »
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Isaac, you seem to conflate being undetected with being stealthy. Not true. You don't have to be stealthy to be undetected. I'd be willing to bet that not more than 5% of the people in my street shots were aware I'd shot a picture. Perhaps less. Some of them saw me do it, but the fact didn't register. Have you actually looked at HCB's pictures? A lot of the people in the pictures he shot on (self-imposed) assignment when he was doing photojournalism were aware he'd made the shot. But look at his street photography. Look, for instance, at his Lock at Bougival. Three people in that marvelous picture, not counting the baby, and none of them see him make the shot. Only the dog inside the door saw him do it. Go check the street shots I've posted at http://www.fineartsnaps.com/. Not all of the pictures, especially the color stuff, is strict street. Some are environmental portraits where the subject and I were interacting. But see how many of the people in the street shots knew I shot their picture. The trick is to be innocuous,not stealthy.
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Isaac
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« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2013, 03:51:51 PM »
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Isaac, you seem to conflate being undetected with being stealthy. Not true.

"stealth: movement that is quiet and careful in order to avoid notice, or secret or indirect action"

"Sometimes he even masked the shiny metal parts of his camera with black tape." Not stealthy?
« Last Edit: February 19, 2013, 04:34:03 PM by Isaac » Logged
Alan Klein
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« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2013, 03:53:10 PM »
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Quote from: Alan Klein on February 18, 2013, 09:45:00 PM

The real question is how do you take pictures of strangers without feeling guilty about it?



<<<Really, you've defined the problem: one instinctively understands that it's intrusion.

Attempting to overcome conscience isn't going to change the nature of the act.

Rob C>>>

Which is why I rarely shoot street shots and mainly shoot landscape.  The trees don't give me funny looks.  However, to each his or her own.  If you are into it and enjoy it, shoot away.
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RSL
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« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2013, 05:03:20 PM »
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"stealth: movement that is quiet and careful in order to avoid notice, or secret or indirect action"

"Sometimes he even masked the shiny metal parts of his camera with black tape." Not stealthy?

Well, I'm not going to play word games. Did you look at the pictures toward which I pointed?
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Isaac
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« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2013, 06:44:16 PM »
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Well, I'm not going to play word games. Did you look at the pictures toward which I pointed?

When you have your own definition of stealthy which doesn't match a dictionary definition -- you are playing word games :-)

When you say "none of them see him make the shot" it tells us nothing about why "none of them see him make the shot" -- maybe he was being stealthy.
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RSL
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« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2013, 08:04:49 PM »
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You didn't answer my question.
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stamper
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« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2013, 03:55:15 AM »
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A couple of weeks ago I shot an image of a street busker and someone talking to him. The talkative person then took me to task for shooting the image and I should pay the busker for taking the image. I wandered on after an exchange of words. When I looked at the image on my monitor the talkative person had the back of his head to me. He must have had eyes in the back of his head! So much for being stealthy.
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Rob C
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« Reply #19 on: February 20, 2013, 08:11:28 AM »
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A couple of weeks ago I shot an image of a street busker and someone talking to him. The talkative person then took me to task for shooting the image and I should pay the busker for taking the image. I wandered on after an exchange of words. When I looked at the image on my monitor the talkative person had the back of his head to me. He must have had eyes in the back of his head! So much for being stealthy.



No, ears at the side. That's why the Leicas had silent shutters.

Rob C
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