Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/12/01

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Subject: Re: [Leica] sneak thief photographers!
From: Alan Ball <>
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998 06:27:09 +0100


I fully understand your point of view. It could have something very pure
to it, as it might impose to both parties, photographer and subject, a
situation where both are aware of the dealings that are taking place.
The photographer is "taking" the image of subject and the subject
decides or refuses his/her image to be taken. 

That is the theory anyway.

The reality is quite different. The aware subject is left with little
choice. Either he (or she) does not make a stink, and the image is in
the box, or, to avoid this taking place, the subject must take the time,
gather the necessary energy and agressivity and engage contradiction
with the photographer. 

Either preemptive contradiction by spoiling the shoot (hiding the face,
closing the angle of view of the camera with a hand, etc) or reactive
contradiction by going up to the photographer and require destruction of
the picture or negociate potential income.

That is if the subject notices what is going on. 

If the subject does not notice the proceedings because of the sleathy
attitude of the photographer, then the whole process becomes unilateral.
The subject does not have the ability to protect his/her image. 

I do not see ANY difference in this case between sleath system nr 1
(camera at hip, wide angle, etc) and sleath system nr 2 (the 'chameleon'
photographer you describe, blending in and taking the picture through
the viewfinder).

I feel that the only honest procedure is to make sure that the subject
knows the image is in the process of being taken. This implies
interaction, and during this interaction the photographer is asking
permission. This can be done without words, through eye contact, a few
gestures or a smile.

So to me the difference between 'stealing' the image or 'making' an
image is in the absence or the existence of conscious interaction
between both parties.

At the end of the day, most street photographers become thiefs, because
it is more productive. In our attorney-rich countries, the professional
street photographer might protect his ass by asking the subject to sign
an agreement that the picture be published.

Usually, when traveling in  poorer countries, the (richer) photographer
does not even do that, and hopes to make a buck (or a nice web page) out
of the 'stolen' image of 'photogenic' poverty. 

Usually but not always: some are very sensitive photographers who treat
all humans the same way, and who do make sure there is an exchange of
good will in the process.

But I've had nausea seeing herds of photographers unshamefuly shooting
veiled women in Morocco for example. They were not sleathy, they were
not hiding, they just did not care.

I have personally stolen a few pictures from the hip. They could most
probably not have been taken in the honest way I advocate, because of
gigantic cultural barriers. I am not proud of that. But some of those
pictures are really good and really tell a story.


Ted Grant wrote:
> If one doesn't have the guts to stand and be counted when they take their
> pictures, then they shouldn't be taking pictures!  Certainly not calling
> themselves "photojournalist nor photographer!"
> I've read alot of this "street photographer/photography" thing over the
> past couple years and I always thought these guys were "cool shooters" with
> lots of guts. That was, until I discovered they walked around with their
> cameras hanging by their ass with wide angle lens attached and clicking the
> shutter hopefully at capturing something or other.
> Or putting a wide angle lens on and walking about, sort of bodily aiming
> the camera in a sneaky fashion towards unsuspecting subjects. Then some of
> them having the audacity of raving about their "street pictures!"
> Hell that's not being a photographer, that's just being an out and out
> iamge thief by gutless wonders!
> I know I've made this point before, but if you are taking pictures on the
> street of people doing things, there are all kinds of ways to "making
> oneself invisble" and still capturing satisfying photographs of huamn
> nature at play or work.
> But to go around and jury rig Leica's to expose film, please note I said
> "expose film," I didn't say "take photographs," Photographers take
> photographs. These others are merely manipulators of a box with light
> sensitive material!
> It doesn't take any talent to walk about clicking in the general direction
> of a subject on the premise they'll have a great "street photograph" due to
> their talent as a photographer.  Heck we can train monkeys to walk about
> doing that!