Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

The fleeting moment is epitomized in street photography – frames of an unchoreographed ballet of movement, expression, interaction and unguarded moments.

But street photography is also an ethical minefield; sometimes people seem comfortable with being photographed, but often, not so, as appears to be the case in the photo below, judging by the firemen’s expressions.

I suspect that these men are resigned to being constantly photographed by strangers, given the location, the nature of their work and the tributes painted on their fire engine. But perhaps they’re also disgusted by the whole disaster-tourism aspect of it.

What do you think?

Are you comfortable with being photographed in public places by strangers? If someone that you had photographed in the street voiced their objection, what would you do?


For more entries to this week’s photo challenge, see The Daily Post at WordPress.com

52 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

  1. I think it’s all about context! I think most people would accept that they are going to be captured on somebody else’s photo or film, though I still feel embarrassed if I realise I’m about to be caught in a stranger’s photograph. I guess when they are in a uniform they are separated from their personal life – it gives you some anonymity. I often wonder about the people in the background of a photo – just there by accident. When you watch old footage of people walking past a camera, like soldiers for example, you see their awareness of having been caught on film- it seems to me there’s a fleeting moment where they are aware of you -like they are looking at you, their future observer, directly in the eye. The expression on the face of the firemen is similar – but I guess it’s not the novelty of the camera anymore.

    • You have succinctly articulated what I couldn’t – I was thinking last night that the level of acceptability seems to hinge on who the photographer is and who the subject is, but what you have said about context and, in this case, uniform encapsulates it perfectly 🙂 Thanks.
      And, yes, the people caught in the background often provide a greater point of interest than the focal subject.

    • The problem with asking permission is that it takes the unobtrusive observer aspect out of it, and it then becomes a posed photo. The good thing about digital photography is that if someone objects, you can delete the photo right then in front of them without affecting the rest of your shots. Thanks, Julie.

  2. There does seem to be more resistance to street photography these days…of course with iphone and ipads…one rarely knows that they’re being photographed.

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    • I also don’t feel comfortable if a stranger takes a photo directly of me, but I don’t mind if I’m caught in the background, although I will always try to move out the way. I once had someone pull up in a car to the passenger side of my car and take a photograph through the passenger window, which I found very unsettling. (Perhaps I was just driving badly, haha)

      • I would have found that unsettling too! I wouldn’t mind being in the background either.
        I don’t even like my family taking pictures of me! 🙂

  4. If someone voiced their objection I would delete the photo if requested / not post publicly. But in this case I don’t know if I would be taking photos – there’s some kind of balance between needing to make sense and reflect on a situation personally, just doing out of curiosity and tourism – I guess everyone has different thresholds.

    • I would also delete the photo if a person voiced their objection. It’s true what you say about thresholds, Nicola. For me, strangers’ children are off-limits as subjects in street photograpy.

  5. I wonder if a spot of the old English reserve made me feel uncomfortable about taking photos of people I didn’t know. Anyway I have done it and quite enjoyed the outcome, I may even try it again!

  6. I don’t mind being photographed myself but I have met a few people who have objected. This is the funny thing, though. I will always ask people if I can photograph them, but if I’m photographing an object and there are people nearby I won’t ask them because I’m shooting the object, not them. Yet I have had one or two people object thinking I am shooting them when in fact, I’m shooting a building or something. Some people are extremely paranoid or maybe there are more undercover secret agents in Sydney than I realised and I am threatening the integrity of their sting operation with my constant snapping away. It can be difficult sometimes. I really love that big fire engine!!!

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  9. Wow I was just asking Madhu about that! I don’t mind as long as I don’t know about it, and I don’t show up on YouTube! Stills, don’t mind so much. But you are right, some would not take kindly to it.

  10. I realized, on one of my photo, that a men, walking with a woman, in front of a building I was shooting at, was hiding his face with his hand…very bizarre, maybe it was not his wife?
    Nice pictures, I like the close up of n10.

    • Thanks, Kate. Yes, I agree. I love street photography but it is ethically problematic. I went to see a play with a friend on Saturday afternoon, and afterwards, when we were walking in the city, I spied a wraithlike but very goth-looking girl walking towards us in these enormous stompety-stomp boots. I would have loved to have taken a photo of her, but she had such an angry-with-the-world look on her face that I thought she might stomp on me if I did. 🙂

  11. haha – they look really pissed off – though they don’t appear to be looking directly at you (I am guessing given the angle) – maybe there was something behind you that they were unimpressed with or maybe they had forgot their lunch money 😉 Interestingly the man behind the truck also appears to be taking a photo.

    • Haha – it would be interesting to know what had them looking so bemused, Gabe. I only noticed their expressions when I looked at the photo afterwards, otherwise I might have looked behind me at the time. The 9/11 Memorial site had only been open to the public for a week or two then, so there were hundreds of people milling around the area – perhaps the firemen were just fed up with trying to get through the throngs and the traffic. I also love looking at what the people are doing in the background of photographs. Benedicte’s comment made me laugh, because I often wonder about people getting caught out – these days there’s nowhere to hide 🙂

    • Clearly you’re not the paranoid type: I am. What if they transpose my head onto someone else’s body and use it for nefarious purposes?!! 😀 (OK, that’s really stretching it, but that’s the way I think)

      (PS – I don’t know why your comment went into the moderation queue – have you been misbehaving, Tilly? ;-))

  12. I don’t mind being photographed when I’m in a different country but at home I’d probably ask why and if the reason/person was okay I wouldn’t mind. In other countries I’m cautious as i would hate to offend and that means I miss lots. It upsets me when people want money if you photograph them.

    • I agree, Gilly – every culture has different rules and it’s in our best interests to abide by them. (I replied to your comment previously, but it disappeared into the ether – maybe it ended up on my own spam folder 🙂 One never knows with WP!)

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  19. Firemen always look serious and focused – I guess they’re always on their way to or from something important. I have yet to see one smile.

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