Photographing People (2)

I imagine that in the days of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Alfred Eisenstaedt, W. Eugene Smith, William Eggleston, Brassai, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau or Garry Winogrand (roughly 1920 till 1975) photographing strangers on the street was much more accepted and much less controversial than it is today.

It is my understanding that in the USA, UK and probably most other countries I am allowed to photograph anyone and anything as long as I am standing on public ground.  I am then allowed to call any such photograph “art” and publish it on the Internet or in a book.  Finally I’m allowed to sell my photographs or books for profit (even thousands of euros) as long as their value stems purely from their artistic content.

Surprised?  Well, I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take my word on it — go and research for yourself!  It’s difficult to find any definitive sources, but I think that I am right on this.  But I’m still not going to try to convince the general public or some security guard watching over a building.

So even though it seems that I neither have to ask for permission nor possess model releases, I guess it’s nonetheless prudent to do so.  You know — law suits are so expensive and such a hassle nowadays…

OK, so I’ll try to ask before I click.  But this pretty much guarantees that I won’t get the image that I want, doesn’t it?  Say someone has fallen asleep on a bench or in a bus.  Wake them up and ask?  I don’t think so.  A couple making out in the subway?  No, not cool.  How about two big guys getting on each-other’s nerves and getting ready to check out who’ stronger?  Negative also…

So, should I give up my newly-found interest in people photography?  Without even trying it out?  I hope not!

I can think of a few ways to go about this, at least in the beginning.  I could start with wanna-be models, artists or musicians.  These people want exposure, so they want to be photographed.  But wait, what about street performers?  They too want wider exposure, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get permission.  I can start by photographing the artist and the viewers will soon get accustomed to my presence and my photographing.  I then could alternate between photographing the artist and the audience.  Since their attention will be directed toward the performance, they might not notice me and they might even make interesting poses: watch with open mouths, cringe if the performance does not go well, etc.  Oh, wow, good idea!

I might also try photographing in the area of festivals, gatherings, etc.  On these, people are usually more relaxed and accepting of photographers.  For example, photographing in St. Pauli, Hamburg’s party mile, should not be that hard.  Some people wear very elaborate and eye-catching make-up and clothing, so they might even want to be photographed.  If I find one or two people whose pictures I take in close succession, it might turn out that everyone wants to have their picture taken.

And I think it’s a good idea to carry my new business cards, give those out and ask the people to contact me if they want the photos.  If course, not all will write, but my chances are probably still better than asking someone to take their photo and also asking for a phone number or an e-mail address.

Do you have any further ideas?


Homeless in Hamburg, Copyright by G.M.B. Akash

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