My girlfriend gave me some great advice about photography. I was complaining to her about how asking for permission to take a photo of someone ruined the candidness of the moment. She told me, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” Whenever I’m out in the streets with the intention of capturing candid moments I live by that creed. Today I ran into a person who mistakenly assumed I snapped a picture of him. He got in my face and said, “What are you taking pictures of people for?”
His aggressive nature triggered an angry reaction in me. I took a breath and told him that I wasn’t actually taking a picture of him, I was intrigued by the giant lollipop on that truck that was passing through the intersection. Then he said this, “You are a lying little bitch, you’re camera was pointed right at me.” At this point my frontal cortex went dark and I turned into a crazy person, frothing at the mouth and spewing an expletive laden explanation of my rights as a photographer in a public space.
He is the second person in less than a month to confront me like this. On each occasion I was not actually photographing the people who were so offended by the presence of my camera and I. Over the years I have developed a sense of the type of person I think wouldn’t like their picture taken. In a world with billions of people I have no problem avoiding confrontation by passing up a photo opportunity, I know there is another person who would love their picture taken just around the next corner. This person was one of those guys. I had absolutely zero interest in photographing him.
In both instances I was harassed simply because I was carrying a camera around someone who doesn’t like cameras. Normally if someone questions me, I apologize and I tell them I’m a journalism student working on a project, but in these rare cases when someone basically attacks me for no reason I feel compelled to stand up for myself. I will not be intimidated by the guy flying a sign at the intersection begging for money because he got in my face for taking a picture I didn’t take. I’m sorry. I just won’t.
The other guy who did this to me actually rode up on a bike while I had my back turned, ran into me and actually started physically pushing me around. He was screaming at me, and accusing me of taking pictures of homeless people waiting outside a shelter in the middle of the night. Both of these times I tried to explain that I wasn’t doing what they thought I was, my explanations came across as sheepishly delivered excuses. When I heard myself sounding weak and meek that really made me angry and then I just started yelling back at them, standing my ground, trying to stand up to their “alpha-ness.”
As a photographer in the streets, I will be happy to delete a picture of any person who doesn’t want their picture taken. You don’t have to yell at me or get in my face or push me around, all you have to do is ask. I take thousands of pictures a day, losing one is no skin off my back. If you do push me around, that only will cause me to do the very thing you didn’t want in the first place. You get in my face, I’ll take your picture every time.
I’m just trying to tell the story of my life. I’m not out to ridicule people. I’m not out there doing undercover investigations of panhandlers. I don’t care that much about what you are doing. Just like it is this guy’s right to stand on the corner and make people feel uncomfortable every time they have to stop at the red light while he stares at them in their cars begging for cash, it is my right to take his picture while he is doing it. The truth of it is, I’ve been practicing street photography long enough that panhandlers and the homeless aren’t really my preferred subject for a photograph. Especially not a guy in a Superman hat.
I’m not a terrorist. I’m a Marine Corps Veteran. I’m not a pedophile. I’m a 40-year-old father of three, trying to make a new start in the world. Investing my time in the pursuit of a college education, trying to re-invent myself. I’m not proud of any arguments I have with my fellow humans. These type of confrontations make me sick to my stomach and I agonize over every cruel word I said in anger. So I’m sorry confrontational panhandler guy, you probably didn’t deserve to be the subject of my tirade. I felt disrespected and I reacted. It is a part of who I am.