Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fear of strangers

"Handout man / L Magazine," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I have taken lots of pictures of people in public without their permission (here for example), but for some time now this has felt uncomfortable. My solution has been to limit my improv public portraits to events like the Mermaid Parade, where people expect, even crave, attention, or to friends & family.

The above picture is part of a self-assignment to develop the nerve (& the fluency) to photograph strangers after 1st asking permission. I'm photographing handout men/women because 1) they interest me 2) I can tell them I'm an artist taking pictures of people handing out stuff on the street & it seems to satisfy them. I use the little Panasonic Lumix I carry around all the time because it's so amateur-looking. So far I've only done 5 or 6 people --maybe 4 quick snaps each. All the subjects have been very nice to me. Only one guy turned me down, & he offered to take his handout back.

Here are a few others I've done:

Handout man /Modern dental
Handout man / Emma's Dilemma
Handout man / NY Metro

It's crazy to be so self-conscious. I thought I'd put it out there...


Chris Bonney said...

Of course you're not alone in this. Despite my best intentions to be more interactive with people in my shots, I find I keep gravitating back to things, rather than people.

Mashuga is terrific at interacting with people. He seems to gain immediate trust. So does Ed Lowe, whose portraits from Bali are treasures of warmth.

I've also been following The Sartorialist blog for some time, not because I'm ever going to be accused of being a fashion plate, as old times say, but because he, too, seems to have a wonderful way of bringing the warmth and playfulness out of his subjects, especially the women. You just want to grin back and wish you knew some of these girls.

sylvia said...

You have a way with series. This is an astounding one, drawing in photographers of all levels because we share this issue.

Mashuga is the light at the end of tunnel - someone who manages to connect with people in a way that I can only dream of AND do amazing portraits of them on top of that. One reason I don't like to ask people if I can take their photograph is that I know they will want a copy ... and I know the photograph will probably not be good enough.

catt55 said...

I am really shy about shooting people but find when I ask they are usually very happy to be shot and no probs at all -so it's all just in my (pathetic) head...blame the parents (mine)...

here today, gone tomorrow said...

I feel so intrusive taking people's photos that I only do it at big public events like you do. I'd love to take more people's pictures, but can't even imagine asking them.

Christine (CA) said...

I'm enjoying this series. I love that you give yourself assignments and then carry them out with such diligence.

I have few qualms about asking then taking strangers' pictures which is funny because I'm not an exceptionally outgoing person. The reason I don't do more is because then I feel like I owe something back, specifically maybe something like a copy and I just don't have time to do that anymore. Or I owe that my use of the photo won't have any negative impact on them, including embarrassment. That makes it hard to put them online where I have zero control. And then, what's the point. So my overactive sense of responsibility to my "subject" most often stops me.

dougplummer said...

As a pro I have to approach and photograph strangers all the time. And I'm usually a shy and introverted type too. Granted, when one has an assignment it's a very big assist, but I learned my chops when I was shooting a lot of stock. Basically, I wear the big camera. If someone is willing to have a conversation with me, it's a good signal about what is likely to ensue. If I know I can fulfill it, I'll get an email address and send a shot, which I always do if I'm going through the model release thing too.

The point of any of this is connection. The motivation is to have a genuine exchange with someone, and sometimes the camera can be a means of making that connection deeper and more meaningful.

Anonymous said...

funny, at events like the mermaid parade and the Idiotarod I know that I'll be photographed if I'm shiny enough (and sometimes even if I'm not) but I don't do them for attention, I do them to experience life inside the spectacle.

Tim Connor said...

Anonymous, I didn't mean to try to define the motives of participants in the mermaid parade. I only meant that those of you "inside the spectacle" as you say, seem to freely grant license to those outside to "experience" the parade another way. I have always appreciated it.

The mermaid parade would still happen if there were no photographers. I've noticed with regret in recent years that a lot of shooters don't seem to know this. They act as though THEY'RE the fabulous ones. And not just at the mermaid parade. In general there are too many photographers acting as though they're more important than what they photograph. Personally, I feel the actual act of being a photog is kind of drab & boring (I don't do the gunslinger bit). But the results aren't boring. The pictures are endlessly fascinating to me.

As far as the reality, you guys are the show: I'm a humble fan.