Woman. FrankfurtThis first set of images of street photography in Germany was an experiment.
An experimentation in blur.
For this one, there was this demonstration that seemed to be going on. Cops were all over the place. This woman, who seemed a junkie, was getting some shit for herself.
I have noticed that there are a couple of approaches that street photographers take towards street photography.
Some adopt an almost minimalist approach and convert the images into an almost abstract form. The human being in the picture is reduced to a small element of the composition. These images have a limited appeal for me.
They are good, artistically. I would even go to the extent of saying that the images are excellent.
These photographers have an excellent grasp of light, shadow and placement. There are times, I must confess that I wonder if the photographers asked the people in the photographs to pose in a particular position. This, in my view, may be possible, but I really cannot confirm my guess.
I live in India. Some people live their entire lives on the street. They live, from birth to death, on the street. It is just the way that many poor people live in my country.
We interact with them. We see the poor on the street and often ignore them. When we see a beggar on the road, we brush by with annoyance.
Some people feel that there is no escape from the poor and the beggars. It is, often, more comfortable, to just not acknowledge their existence and humanity.
There was a time when I was sitting on the road in North Delhi, near Kashmere Gate. I was opposite a structure built by the British to commemorate their victory during the Great Uprising of 1857. After a while, I noticed a man dressed in rags. He was eating an orange that he had picked up from the road.
After a while, he walked away, pulled down the shreds that covered his legs and genitalia, and squatted on the road to shit. I noticed that he sat next to a puddle of dirty water that he used to clean his bum. After he had completed his business, he ambled off.
I noticed the man and watched him as he performed his ablutions publicly. He did not seem to experience any shame. I don’t think he had a choice.
His emotions were probably dead, killed by poverty, hopelessness and abuse.
Shame and sympathy coursed through me. What do you do at such a moment? Do you take a photograph of his naked bum, and walk away with your prize? Do you keep your camera down?
If indeed you photograph the man, how do you present the photograph? Do you offer it as your prize? Or, do you create a story around this, to highlight his pain?
We may not want to admit it to ourselves, but the moment we take a photograph like this and present it to the world, we intrude upon his private space. At that moment, we use his misery for our purpose. I do not believe that we can escape this realization if we are honest to ourselves.
Photographing people on the street, and capturing the raw emotion is a tricky business.
We all have to walk a thin string when we are capturing the raw emotions and stories of people on the street. The string can break, or our balance may not be good, and we will fall off.
When we whoop with joy after photographing a poor person, we are exploitative. When we treat people with dignity and respect, then we enrich ourselves as humans and as photographers.
It just boils down to one question. What is your intent?