I was shooting the streets of Manchester one day when I saw a beggar sitting near an ATM. He was there just about every day but I’d never spoken to him. Being that I was new to street photography it took me a while to build up the nerve to ask to take his photo, the juxtaposition of beggars near ATMs was a common sight in England and though it may be a tad trite, it was interesting to me at the time.
Anyway I waited till someone went to use the ATM and promptly began snapping a few pics, then this fella stepped into the frame and began shouting, suggesting I was stealing his mates pin number or some nonsense.
Keeping in mind this is long, long before credit card skimmers, I’m not certain where his mind had taken this scheme of mine. As if I was going to somehow take a picture of his friends’ pin and then use that pin to do what exactly?
I shrugged his aggression off, more focused on what was happening through my lens than actually happening in the real world.
And then he threatened to “knock me out.”
I was probably a little too stubborn at the time. I stopped shooting, stood up from my crouched position to discover I was taller than this guy.
I began to calmly tell him off, my words sprinkled with a sense of humorous disbelief that he was even raising the question of my criminal potential.
Either I’d persuaded him of the fact he was illogical in his charges against me or — and this is far more likely — he heard my non-British accent. And not wanting an incident with a foreigner (and probably another ASBO on his record), he left with his friend without saying much else.
Riding high on the endorphins from not being punched, and given that it was one of my last days in England for the foreseeable future, I emptied my pockets into this guys hands… He’d given me his name, James maybe? It’s been so long… anyway, he was soft spoken and down on his luck and deserved every penny. :-/
The lesson here is this.
It was a public space with no expectation of privacy, even at an ATM. If you’re putting vulnerable information out in the open, that’s on you, not me.
Privacy is a weird topic and rules for it change from country to country, but the general rule of thumb for it is: if you’re somewhere that’s easily viewed by any member of the public, you have no right to claim privacy.
On a sidewalk? No rights.
In your car on a busy freeway? No rights.
In your front bay window naked in the morning? No rights.
If you’re just starting out as a photographer, especially one set on doing street photography you need to know your rights inside and out. There’s no question that you’re rights will be challenged somewhere along the lines.
It’s important to remember not everyone loves having their photo taken. It’s important to remember, as a photographer, that sometimes “the shot” will vanish the moment you ask for permission.
The gallery below is all shots from my Canon AF35M, a camera I came to own via a random Redditor in Iowa.
It was without a doubt my favorite camera for instantaneous street photography. Sadly, it was film and film is just hard to shoot these days. Thankfully, current cameras are all just as quick and this is all easily accomplished with digital.
Every single photo below is shot within an instant of raising the camera, with no regard for permission or acceptance of the subject. Each time after I shot the photo I’d smile, say thanks and answer any questions they had, usually it was “why are you taking pictures of me” and I’d explain why. Easy. Fun. No one was angry, well except for one.