Street Photography and Fear

Recently I’ve had all the time in the world to indulge in my compulsive research habit because of surgery and I can’t do crap. It frustrates me, if you can’t tell. But hey, bright side – research! Naturally I’ve been researching photography and street photography. I came across Eric Kim’s 31 Days of Overcoming Your Fear of Shooting Street Photography. His book, and his blog in general, are awesome and have been very educational and inspirational. His ebook is definitely full of stuff I want to try out, but then I realized it doesn’t really cover the reason why I, personally, get so unsettled with shooting on the street sometimes.

I’m not afraid of being arrested because I’ve researched the  likelihood of it and I already tend to explore places which are technically not open to the public. Such as sneaking away from the guided tour and jumping the guardrails in the Queen Mary at Long Beach which, in retrospect, was not exactly safe. Worth it? Definitely. I’m a small and nonthreatening-looking person who can play dumb pretty good. The most I get is a warning to piss off.

These photographs are horrendous.

I’m worried about my camera being broken because we have a very unhealthily codependent relationship. It isn’t precisely a fear, though, just a concern to keep an eye out so I don’t accidentally do something dumb, like climb rocks without it securely attached to me or whatever dumb things I sometimes do.

Now, everything else? The fear of being yelled at, assaulted, receiving weird looks, being perceived as weird? None-issues for me. Dude, I’m twenty-five. I’m over the awkward self-conscious stage and I just want to chill, do my thing, have fun, and meet cool people. I’m not a damn narcissist and I have my own insecurities, but they do not extend to what other people think of me in general. I care about proving myself and doing right by others, but hey, if I cared about being ‘weird’ in my college environment I’d be drinking seven shots in one go and posing for bad photos. I can assure you I do neither (one or two beers is my lightweight max). I’ve gone through the ‘know thyself’ phase and I know I’m weird. I also know other people are weird. Even the most vanilla of the bunch can be really freakin’ weird beneath the layer of vanilla. We’re all weird, and it’s all good.

And finally, I’ve been yelled at and assaulted. I’m a nurse who’s low on the hierarchy of medical personnel. It’s practically a rite of passage. One of my fellow classmates narrowly dodged a roundhouse kick to the head, which is not something I’ve had to do. I’ve had my kneecaps punched multiple times, been dragged across a bed, been clocked in the face, had items thrown at me (most notable being the bedpans), been called every name under the sun and blamed for everything from the lack of red jello to cancer. At least the street has a balance of people caught up in their own stuff, positive things, neutral things, and negative things. In a hospital, people are bored, grieving, in pain, freaked out, sometimes they have to be restrained and sometimes they should be for their own safety and the safety of others but are not. They have absolutely nothing better to do than think about how sick they are, how sick their loved ones are, how slow this test or this medication is coming along, so on and so forth.

People who are hurting and scared can lash out at others, and by nature of my work I (and other nurses) are easy targets. After those experiences as a student I’ve taken precautions to protect myself. I’ve actually developed Matrix-like reflexes and a proactive approach to my own safety. I’m not saying it’s right – family, patients, the great majority of us do this work because we honestly care, and I know being in the hospital sucks but a lot of us are doing our best, okay? You’re upset, and that’s why we’re here, to try to help in whatever way we can. Just, please, don’t throw things at us.

Here’s the kicker. As I wrote that, I had to seriously think about all the terrible, negative things that have happened to me on the floor. They don’t come to mind readily, because they are wildly overshadowed by the amazing experiences I’ve had as a nurse, the wonderful, brave people and their families. As a student, I cried a lot. Almost everyone has. However, I laughed and smiled more. Either way, the point is, I’ve survived and thrived in the hospital. Short of weaponized violence or all-out assault, the street does not scare me. At all.

So what am I scared of?

I’m scared of someone catching me when I photograph them. I’m scared of them misreading why I’m taking their picture. I do it because humanity is brilliant and beautiful as-is, in the middle of normalcy, middle of joy, even in the middle of hurt, pain, and difficulty. I do it because our greater culture is constantly telling us our existence has to be this photoshopped, CGI, short-scripted perfection squeezed perfectly into preordained binaries and that is just not life. Real life, honest life, is flawed and beautiful and worthy of record.

I’m scared of someone not knowing that (how would they unless they were psychic?) and seeing the camera as a mockery of whatever the shiny world says is wrong with them but I think is wonderful: their age, their appearance, their gender presentation, their hobby, their expression of anything other than hyper confident, alpha-type positivity. I’m scared people will think I’m making fun of them. Truthfully, I’m terrified of hurting people, and yes, their feelings. Which is why I tend to try to shoot as incognito as possible.

I think Eric Kim’s suggestion to smile and say thank you is a great launching point, but I’m not 100% sure on this issue yet. How do I communicate that I’m not being a dick by pointing a camera at someone and taking their photo? I compliment when I can, smile, say ‘thank you’, but there’s always that lingering fear of my actions being mistranslated in the worst possible way.

I guess there’s some things research can’t always clarify. I guess I’ll find out as I go, but hey, if anyone has suggestions or thoughts about this subject, I’ll be completely stoked to hear it!


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