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Photography: Our Society has Trust Issues

It’s not unusual for street photographers to be accosted in public spaces for making their images. It’s disappointing; it’s a negative side effect of living in a hyper-connected and information saturated society.

The scenario generally pans out in various ways and the crux of complaint seems to be “You are taking photographs of my stuff.” Like that, in itself, is theft that can be taxed or requires written permission. Like they aren’t left with their stuff… or that I am somehow stealing their stuff, rather than walking away with a captured image made from the light reflected off their stuff.

Or people feel that I’m going to make money from their image or the image of their stuff – but I’m never entirely sure whether they want a share of that money or simply not to be exploited.

Yesterday’s encounter on a light industrial backstreet at Moonah was interesting. I’m fascinated by the 1950s era houses with flaked-paint and the non-standard artefacts generally present in light industrial areas. Meanwhile, the clouds were multi-layered and rolling before a storm – blacks, greys and a swirling strip of almost blown out white along the horizon. I also have a fetish for roof photographs, but that’s another story that I pursue in digital.

I had a Fujica ST705w loaded with Rollei RPX 100 black and white film around my neck and a Holga 120n loaded with Kodak Portra 400 colour film. My objective was to make multiple exposure Holga photographs just to see how the Portra responds to the Holga.

Anyway, the thing with film is I spend a long time looking through the lens and trying to figure out the shot. Often, there isn’t a shot and I walk on. I think that I’d checked out three houses and a sleepy old beagle on a chair. I’d probably taken three photographs in the street at most before one of the residents accosted me.

I think what people miss about that situation is that photographs on a suburban street from a public sidewalk aren’t illegal. If every car or house or business or thing was owned with an eye to precluding photographers then there simply would be no cameras sold in our society.

But I’ve been chased away from a lot of places. A clown busker with a thick American accent demanded cash for the photograph I shot at a public market; I was accosted by an angry inner-city antique store owner for making a photograph at his shop front (he said he would call the Police); a Russian woman at the market selling mirrors ran at me yelling “No photographs! No photographs!”; a seller of fat woman yoga statues called me a “sneaky photographer” and said I was out to steal her idea to set up a market stall in competition; and a concerned citizen in the CBD demanded to know why I was making photographs (without ever explaining his explicit concern).

This list of negative social engagement is growing and it definitely illustrates the lack of social capital that we’ve fostered over the last three decades.

We simply don’t trust each other when it comes to making pictures. The common phrase taking pictures in contrast to making pictures lends that mistrust some power.

The man who accosted me yesterday was concerned that I was taking photographs of lead piping to give to thieves. But I was making photographs because I’m an amateur photographer. And I appreciate his concern but with everybody holding high quality cameras in their phones right now I strongly doubt that budding thieves are roaming Hobart with a shipping container of fresh Holga 120n plastic cameras loaded with Kodak Portra 400.

We now live in a smaller better informed world. Or, at least, one in which we feel better informed – we hear more bad things simply because bad things are news and good things rarely make it into the news. Or we see paparazzi photographers intrude into peoples’ lives and those private moments sold to magazines. We all have a right to seek and expect a degree of privacy. Or we see a broader array of victims of crime on the television and Internet.

Unfortunately, that’s just how society is right now. Low social capital. Low interpersonal trust. A belief that everybody is out to rip us off… somehow… some way. And we all want our share if there’s a dollar being made – we’ve got an epidemic of IP-encephalitis.

I miss the 1980 experience of shooting photographs of passenger jets at the airport. Or the police. Or taking a camera to the beach without being arrested as a pervert. That, yes THAT, was a freedom you would think it was worth fighting to keep.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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