Is Street Photography Actually That Dangerous?

A scenario I frequently see.

  1. News article, blog post, or forums discussion about Street Photography starts.
  2. Avalanche of comments from people who say they could never do Street Photography because they are too scared of getting punched, or too scared of getting their gear smashed, or worst of all, being forced to delete an image.

Do these things happen? Of course. Does it happen at a rate that any serious street photographer should just stay indoors? Doubtful.

So how dangerous is street photography?

Compared to other activities which are considered socially acceptable, I feel like Street Photography is rather safe way to spend my time. Digging around in the tubes for a bit gives me these numbers regarding a few common pastimes which are popular in my neck of the woods.

American Football: 33 Fatalities between 2000-2007. 460,000 injuries in 2006.

Cheerleading: …approximately 25,000 cheerleaders ended up in the emergency room in 2007

Snowmobiling: 21 fatalities in the 2009/2010 season in Wisconsin alone.

Skateboarding: Do I even need numbers?

Street Photography: Occasional boo-hoo forum post followed by social media outrage any time a stranger so much as asks a street photographer what they are up to.

My money that the biggest injury risk most street photographers face is a black and blue ego when some cop or bystander doesn’t fully understand that a Leica M9 should be taken as a big sign that says “Leave me alone!”

Really, I remember there was that one incident in about `07 or `08 where a guy got punched when he took a photo on a subway escalator, and then used the photo he took of the guy to track him down to bring assault charges. (Ack! Can’t find link) Aside from that, rarely do I ever seem to come across a story where altercations actually get physical. Excluding situations where there is an elevated risk for everyone involved, such as war zones and riots, I don’t think I’ve come across any account where the act of Street Photography has left the photographer with wounds worse than anything in the aforelinked skateboarding videos. (Please link me to any articles if you have seen them.)

I can think of a few non-war photographer deaths in recent years. But all of those were cases of either unfortunate luck, or not paying close enough attention in potentiality dangerous urban exploration environments. None came as a result of the human subjects of the photographs getting violent.

While I have received verbal threat from people on the street multiple times, I myself am yet to be punched or have my gear smashed. Sometimes though, I feel that a bloody nose or black eye would be quicker and less painless experience than my own boo-hoo moment when a police officer was publicly accusing me of being a threat to woman and a child predator in front of the general public. The whole Photographers who aren’t landscapists must be perverted terrorists looking to snatch your children in the night angle is one that I do fear and let get to me. That subject is several posts in it self though, so I’ll stay away for now.

I will say this though—every time I hit the street I am fully aware and accepting to the fact that I might get swatted at. I’m also well aware that the gear I have slung over my shoulder may not make it home if Lady Chance sees fit to frown at me on that given day. I think as a street photographer, one needs to look at these risks in the same way that the skateboarder looks at a skinned knee. Expect them at some point, and If you can’t, stick to photographing mountains. They never care. Just don’t fall off a cliff.

Have you ever been attacked?

Have any of you photographers out there actually ever been physically attacked due to your art? If so, what were the extents of your injuries?

Unrelated photo from my archives of a tough looking individual in a very small town who surprisingly didn’t beat the snot out of me after I took his photo from a few feet away without asking.

A Man With A Snake On His Shoulder, Birnamwood, Wisconsin, June 2010