Today I stopped at the McDonalds in Shanghai’s Super Brands Mall for a Diet Coke break and noticed this pretty girl sitting by herself across from me. My camera was sitting on the table and I decided to photograph her quiet solitude. I’m certain she has plenty of friends, but in a city of 22 million people this young lady was eating lunch by herself. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but later as I processed the photos I began to wonder if she thought I was a creep taking photos of women in McDonalds. There’s probably a very fine line between street photography and creep photography. The semi-pro camera gear I was using probably says “I’m not a creep”, but as I look at this image I wonder what’s going through her mind.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot of articles about the “rules of engagement” in street photography. The latest strategy I read involves sitting down with the potential subject and striking up a conversation with them first, and then asking to take their portrait. Breaking-the-ice with a conversation is suppose to seem less creepy – especially for male photographers taking photos of women. I’m not sure I agree with that strategy for a few reasons. First, the woman may think I’m after far more than just a photograph. Secondly, because I can barely speak a coherent sentence in Chinese there’s no telling what I’ll end up saying and I’ll get a kick in the groin in return. Finally I want my photos to look like I was invisible in the environment. In many cases the subject isn’t looking in to the lens because they didn’t notice me or the camera, which is odd because I don’t exactly “blend” in some of the locations I visit in China.
I think I’ll stick with my run-and-gun, shooting-from-the hip approach. In the case of the photo below, it was shooting from on top of the tabletop. You can actually see the round edge of the table at the bottom of the frame. All I did was point the camera and press the shutter release button.
With privacy issues filling the news these days I’m certain it’s just a matter of time before street photographers are required to identify themselves and ask permission before pushing the shutter release. Regulations could slow down the stream of photos from photographers like myself, but I can understand that some people simply don’t want their photos taken by strangers for unknown possible uses. Until then, I plan to shoot away using my best discretion – and learn to speak more Chinese.