The Ethics of Street Photography

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Fuji released a short promotional film for their new X100V camera, featuring acclaimed street photography Tatsuo Susuki. It led to a heated debate online about Susuki-san’s street shooting style – too aggressive? Fuji apparently then pulled the film.

The original video has disappeared from YouTube as far as I can tell, though this ‘3rd party’ commentary from Camera Conspiracies is available.

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Honestly, not for me. I am not a fan of Bruce Gilden‘s ‘in your face’ style, although there is no denying his acute eye and photographic ingenuity.

But is that a reason to pull the promotion? I assume the issue is that Fuji did not want to be in the middle of a PR-storm. But they had especially approached Suzuki-San, and now seem to be scapegoating him. There are many photographers who pursue similar approaches. Dougie Wallace, perhaps, or Martin Parr? I am sure Fuji would be happy if Dougie or Martin would shoot with their cameras.

And, one does wonder whether this overt street style is better or worse than Walker Evan’s acclaimed ‘hidden camera’ images taken on the New York Subway.

To hide or to be overt? That is a good question.

Honestly, neither is for me. But does that mean that others shouldn’t do it? Street Photography, like most things in life, is on a continuum – from being totally OK to being not OK.

Just because one can do something, doesn’t mean that one should. Judging where your work sits on that continuum is both a creative and ethical choice.

Here is an interesting perspective on the issue from FStoppers’s Andy Day https://fstoppers.com/originals/does-holding-fuji-camera-give-you-license-be-obnoxious-453775.

His conclusion:

‘The convenience for the obnoxious street photographer is that the image is a snapshot of a moment caught just before the unwitting subject reacts to this invasion. Photographs are typically that moment of confusion before realization, annoyance, and intimidation kick in and subjects are rendered helpless. The moment the photographer wanted is complete, ripped away from the consequences that the photograph so conveniently ignores and overlooks. The image is taken (in both senses), the photographer’s braggadocio is bolstered, the resulting image is more important than the process. The ends justify the means, and the photographer’s expression of power is complete.

Until now. What was once deemed heroic is now seen as pathetic. The photographer’s ego is revealed and found vile. An unpleasant taste sours every image, as though the overblown ego is a sepia tone that washes every single photograph. Fuji’s blindness to this was surprising, and the reaction is entirely justified. Intrusive street photography is a power trip that belongs in the past’.

Here’s an earlier post I wrote on Street Photography, from the perspective of what is in the image.

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