Questions of Ethics and Privacy
Like many genres of photography, street photography should put you on the spot from time to time. It will surprise me if you never have to ask yourself tough questions. Street photography poses unique challenges regarding ethics and privacy, and addressing these issues is vital as you continue your journey as a photographer.
I’d like to share a few examples to illustrate my point.
I used to travel with a friend of mine. This gent has a golden heart but can be boorish. Once, when we traveled to Pushkar in Rajasthan, we photographed people on the street and shopkeepers. Some merchants objected to being photographed and expressed this in plain terms. Yet, my friend ignored them and shoved his camera in their faces. The only thing that mattered to him was the image. Questions of ethics and privacy did not bother him at all.
The Fibula & The Tibia
In my early twenties, living in Bombay, I traveled by the local train to my home base. When our train stopped along the tracks for almost twenty minutes, most of us became edgy. We live in a world where impatience rules us. When the train pulled up at the next station, my compartment stopped next to a man lying on the platform. Those days, I used to hang out off the train when traveling. The white bones of his left leg–the fibula and tibia–stared at me from out of his trouser. His right foot was chopped into two pieces. The first instinct that flowed through me was the instinct to photograph him. Self-disgust flooded me without delay. I wondered how I could ever consider photographing a man after an accident ruined his life.
The Girl With One Eye
I want to end with a third story. During those days, I used to travel by local train to my place of work. My bosses had moved me to the general shift. I’d leave the office at 5 pm and travel back to my home base. After reaching Kurla Station, I’d climb the over-bridge to my bus stop. I’d pass a young beggar girl sitting at a corner of the bridge. She could not have been over eight or nine years old. I always knew a pretty girl lived under the dirt covering her face. One day, she disappeared and returned a few months later. As I prepared to greet her, my smile turned into a look of horror because I noticed her bosses had taken her left eye out. I stared through her eye socket, through to the white of her skull.
Questions. Morals. Ethics and Privacy
What would you do if you held a camera in your hand? Would you take a photograph, or would you walk away? I thought about it for a long time and have not yet arrived at a satisfactory answer. During my younger days, I was not conscious of issues about ethics and privacy. But when I saw these two unfortunate people, I did not believe it was right to photograph them. I’ve seen many people mutilated and put on the streets to beg. Over time, they become part of the landscape, and this is a tragedy.
Do we allow our hearts to bleed? Or do we put our emotions on ice and live as though we are in paradise? It’s good to have an active conscience. Maybe then, we will be able to address these issues humanely.