I didn’t take the picture.
Today I dropped off some rolls of film for my Spinner 360 camera. The camera was a gift from two Austrians I’d befriended last March. They had one, I was quite enamored of the idea and complexities of shooting 360º. Since it was my first visit to the Lomography Store in the West Village, I wandered around and purchased two very cool film cameras. A Fisheye #2 and an Action Sampler with flash. Loaded them with 400 ASA color negative film and walked away dying to start shooting.
Since I was alone, the Fisheye was the one to start with.Walked and looked but didn’t shoot anything. Then down onto the NYC Subway platform where I figured I’d try out a neato feature- B setting. Open shutter for as long as I want to hold it. I steadied the body of the camera against a column, and as a train sped into the station, I held the shutter open. Released it before the nose of the train passed the edge of the circular frame. Hoping for the best.
Got onto the train. An indigent gentleman, reeking of dried sweat and dried urine, walked on. In each hand was a collection of plastic supermarket sized bags, filled with his possessions. He had wide slashes in the legs of his pants. His t shirt- ironically- had a logo that said " New Life " on it. Long white hair flowed to his shoulders and his equally long white beard wasn’t a tangled mess, but it wasn’t overly well kept.
He was muttering quietly to himself almost nonstop. Now and then as I sat, peering through my Fisheye out the window of the subway, I’d turn and look at him. He appeared to focus on me when I looked at his face, but perhaps I was seeing something not there.
I knew while still underground that once above in the daylight, a wide angled lens of all of his bags on the floor around him and his deeply lined face and never-stopping eyes would be a tremendously strong photograph.
I couldn’t take it without asking his permission, and I didn’t want to upset him by asking. IF he had the lucidity to understand what I was asking of him, he might well have been upset. I felt like my urge to shoot a highly compelling photograph was as much exploitative as creative.
In the past if I’ve been in a situation to shoot a stranger on the street for any reason, it’s been through a pretty long lens and they never knew. Here, I was across the train from him on my seat. Nobody was at our end of the car, the empty seats on either side of the fellow would have heightened the image.
It would have been disrepectful to shoot from the hip, hoping he was either not lucid enough to realize or that he didn’t notice I’d maybe shot his photograph. I wasn’t comfortable asking his permission. So I didn’t shoot it.
I’ve always loved street photography and have felt fairly bulletproof- and comfortably justified- in shooting images of strangers as long as I wasn’t going to make a dime off of the images.
Not sure what is different now. It doesn’t matter if the photo would have been a snapshot or regarded as high art down the road by viewers. It only matters to me now, in posting this, that my gut told me not to shoot a frame that previously I would have been compelled to capture.
On Preview: Suddenly I am reminded of that horrific scene in Saving Private Ryan where the two soldiers are locked in mortal combat, rolling on the floor, to gain control of the knife that would kill one of them. Face to face, IN your face, murder of another human being. So intimate, so powerful. I think I hesitated because there was no anonymity to the act of photographing him.
Either I will have to get really ballsy about the use of this, or it will be for architectural or shots of friends and family. Because it’s fairly boring unless you are quite close to a subject, or at least have a close element to the side in tight foreground.