I have recently come across an interesting blogpost by Tom from The Photo Fundamentalism. The post and a discussion below got me thinking about my approach to the street photography and photographing people.
It is a little bit controversial opinion, but holds many truths. I love street photography as I like to observe the people in their environment, how they interact with each other and how they interact with the space around them. This is especially true when I travel – I want to capture and show the things that depict my impression or fascinate me. Japan and Tokyo is great for that, offering endless opportunities anywhere you go.
But how do you approach people? Do you ask them for permission to take photo? If you do, does it not alter the nature of the scene? When is it not ok to take photographs?
Last January, I went to take some photos during the Coming of Age Day. This is a day when 21 year olds celebrate their maturity (and permission to start legally drinking alcohol among many things). In the setting of the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, beautifully clad girls with their family and friends looked stunning. But literally hundreds of other photographers had the same idea. So I found myself at what felt like a safari – hunt with cameras. It seemed that girls did not object too much for having photos of them taken but I went an extra mile to at least compliment them on how beautiful they look (which is additionally difficult as my Japanese is almost non-existent).
I also have a moral objection of taking photographs of poverty. Having said that, I would love to document it. There is quite a lot of poverty in Tokyo, close to many tourist spots. You may admire the famous Shibuya Crossing while few streets away, under the Yamanote line bridge, there are dozens of homeless people sleeping in their ramshackle huts. In the Ueno Park, famous for its cherry blossom and many museums, there are a lot of homeless too. If you don't look close, they seem like passengers killing time until their train arrives. I would like to document it but without being able to discover their stories (language barrier striking again) I do not feel it is all right to take photos.
Admittedly, I am not good at photographing people, albeit it is not as bad now as it was before. Now and then I will muster all my courage to walk up to a person to ask for their portrait. It was almost never met with rejection and led often to meeting interesting people. But still my preference would be to take candid photos, blend in as much as possible in order not to distort the atmosphere of the place.
And how do you approach your street photography? Are you comfortable approaching stranger? Do you ask for the permission? Let me know in the comments below.