“You can’t be a nice Nellie and do photography.” ~Weegee, from an audio recording available at Boogie Woogie Flu.

A week ago I took a photo of a young woman which resulted in her catching up to me a a block later and attempting to give me a guilt trip about it before speeding off on her bike. I hadn’t realized this at the moment, but I do believe it was the first negative response I’ve received from a stranger while out doing street photography.

It was a quick & awkward conversation since I often have minimal social skills when it dealing with people face to face, but I do remember he three key points.

  1. I should ask for permission first.
  2. I’m very rude.
  3. Something about ruining the hospitality of neighborhood.

I’m still not quite sure what point three was all about, so I’m just going to ignore it. As for the first two, here are my rebuttals for the girl on the bike who will never read this.

Asking permission.

If I want pictures of people standing cheek-to-cheek with ADA approved teeth filled smiles on their face, I’ll stop and ask permission. If I want photos of stiff looking people not knowing how to act naturally, I’ll stop and ask permission.

People are more natural and full of life before being asked “May I take your picture.” That is the side of people I want to capture. The moment I ask them to do something wacky and say cheese, the photo sucks. Better to not even go there.

But is it rude?

I don’t believe so. I may not courteous and ask up front, but it is still a far cry away from being rude.

Drunken beggars stopping me to get money for (bus fare|cigarettes|broken car). Pro-lifers stopping me to hand me photos of dead babies. Racial & sexual harassment of passing strangers. Proselytizers telling us we are doomed to an eternity of pain & suffering for having a slightly different view of the world than they do. Assault.

Those are just a few undesirable events that I have experienced first hand while out on the streets that I’d consider rude or worse. I ask for nothing when I take a photo of someone, and believe that holding up someone long enough to ask if I can take their photo feels more intrusive than just doing it without having to disrupt what they are doing. In an ideal situation, when I take a photo, there is no interruption to the subject’s flow and we all keep moving.

I feel that if getting a snap taken of me on the street is the worst thing to happen to me in any given month, I should really just smile and enjoy the nice life I have. I’d rather have an image of me out there doing whatever it was I happened to be doing, then to be openly cut down by a stranger because we have different color skin.