You’re Supposed to Ask, You Know—NOT!


ask

Last week, I attended PrideFest in Lake Worth Florida. I usually do it because its a lot of fun, I have no problem getting people to have their picture taken, and it usually results in a couple of great shots. This year was a bit different though. I decided to just photograph the Gay Pride parade—or at least the initial setting up before they actually went out and paraded. This is when the people are concentrating on what they have to do instead of performing in front of a camera. It results in what I think, are more honest pictures—pictures of people just being themselves.

At the far end was this group of kids setting up and rehearsing with this large banner which they were going to use in the parade. I snapped a few shots and just after this one I heard—

“You’re supposed to ask, you know.” 

I looked up and there was this other girl at the far end of the banner yelling at me. “Your supposed to ask, you know” she repeated. “Why” I asked, and she replied “it was only polite.” I began to tell her that if I asked, I would end up with a shitty picture of the subject grinning, all teeth for my camera and this made for boring photographs but she was not listening. She was to into being offended.

What the fuck is wrong with these kids today and where do these rules come from? They are about to march in a fucking parade in front of two or three thousand  people and one would expect that a few of them have cameras or cellphones. Do they not expect people to take pictures of them? Why are we supposed to ask? I certainly do not impose on people when I shoot them (in fact I am the opposite and try to stay invisible) and the chances of them ever seeing a copy of this photograph are next to zero so what is their problem? Actually, I think I know what the answer is. People feel so alienated and ignored these days that they feel they have to seize power over people wherever they can find it. Everybody has to make a stand—no matter how ridiculous, or pointless it may be. These days people quite often confront me when I take pictures because they feel either I am invading their privacy, stealing a moment (I like that one), or I am just an everyday pervert. All of this is bullshit. They could simply turn away, but that makes them feel like a victim for my camera. It is too passive. Confrontation is much more effective—at least in their twisted logic so they blurt out stupid comments like,

“You’re supposed to ask, you know. Its only polite” 

No I am not supposed to ask. At my age (72), I have been around a bit, and I do not need an uptight politically correct teenage prig to tell me what politeness is. Making up stupid rules for strangers  to follow, telling people how they should behave, and what they should or should not do is anything but polite. It is downright rude!

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  1. The internet can be a fickle thing. On the one hand it has been a boon for photographers as it is now second nature for folks to regularly upload images for wide distribution of the most meaningless things. On the other hand some see it as a threat to their privacy lest a serious photographer post their image image in what they anticipate will be a subversive way.

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  2. At the risk of getting bashed by someone I am going to jump in with both feet and respectfully disagree. If they were in set-up mode, they were not performing in any sense. They were, as you note, simply being people. During that timeframe, I think that it IS polite to ask. Ask, then wait until they ‘forget’ you are there, then take the photos. If you tend to ‘stay invisible’ as you note then you would quickly fade into their background.

    By your logic, I can walk up to you at any point without asking and start shooting your photo. Is that polite? Is it OK for me to shoot your photo without permission, regardless of whether you will ever see it?

    (that said, I’ll go ahead and knock myself for not always following my own advice…)

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    • OK. At when did it become polite to ask. Not in Cartier Bresson’s time, Not with Robert Frank. How about Robert Doisneau? Was it in the ’70s? Was it in the ’80s? When? What year did it become polite? I am sure at some point this rule became effective, but when, because I never heard of it until a few years ago.

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      • Ah, but perhaps we are talking about two different things. I would argue that it is always polite to ask. Always has been and always will be. It’s about being considerate. Whether it’s necessary or detrimental to getting the ‘best shot’ – I can’t answer that one.

        Henri Cartier Bresson was obviously lauded for his photos. Whether he was a polite and considerate person while taking them – who knows?

        If someone started shooting a bunch of photos of you without asking, how would you react?

        If someone is engaging in an activity that reasonably reduces their expectation of privacy (i.e. a public demonstration, in a parade, being a busker, etc.) then they are in a sense potential journalism subjects. But people going about their daily lives…. that seems invasive. (though again I admit I am sometimes guilty of it myself when I travel)

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      • I actually have rules regarding this activity. If a person is engaged in some activity such as walking, talking, reading, etc., and is unaware of my presence, I see no problem taking their picture. I do not think it is harmful to them in any way and the chances of them actually seeing the photograph are zilch. On the other hand, if I have made eye contact with someone, I will always ask permission because they re now aware of my presence and I consider it a matter of respect rather than politeness. As you mentioned, once the pleasantries are out of the way, I can just shoot “au naturelle”. Regarding the photograph that accompanied this article, the girl who I photographed did not mind having her picture taken. She was ignoring me and made no objections. It was another girl who was watching me shoot, who decided that this issue should be addressed. She was being a busy body and this matter was actually none of her business. Every situation is different. As for myself, if someone was taking pictures of me, I really could not care less. If at some point it began to bother me, I would simply walk away or ask them to stop. Honestly though, it has never come to that. After a few shots, most people get bored and move on.

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  3. I see both sides, but ultimately this person was photographed 200 times that day by surveillance cameras, they probably have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, and probably upload photos of themselves all day. So in this world, you have to expect your photo to be taken and I see nothing wrong with taking someone’s photo.

    On the other hand, if someone objects to me taking their photo, I’ll move on. There are plenty of others who don’t mind. Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking post.

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