You Write The Script: The Street Photographer’s Dilemma

Whether it is a single shot, unposed, a moment of time, or a series to show how an incident unfolded, street photography is the depiction of a slice of life, a moment in time.  There are certain ethical rules we abide by that perhaps others don’t: Vivian Maier has an entire subchapter of photographs of drunken stumblebums, which she may or may not have ever intended the world to see.  To each his own, though for the record, we don’t take pictures of the homeless, of panhandlers, those whose misery and vulnerability is paramount, even as they lay defenseless before the lens.

Ah, but what about lovers in the middle of some drama?  Is it ethical not only to take their photograph, but to post it, as we do here?

The Breakup 1

We came across the above scene as we were walking home some days ago.  As soon as we saw the woman with her arms on the man’s shoulder, our camera went to our eye.  We didn’t really have time to wonder what was going on between them, though the body language triggered our awareness that we were an eyewitness to a searing moment of intimacy.  Was it right for us to take this picture? To now display it?  And if so, what was she saying?  What is passing between these two?

The Breakup 2

He’s clearly affected by it; the look on his face seems to be hurt, suppressed anger.  She’s trying to get him to understand something.  Is she leaving him?  Trying to get him to do something?  There’s a tenderness that suggests she’s not leaving him, or at least not parting without affection.

The Breakup 3

One last try at getting him to understand, or at least accept, some decision or admonition or directive on her part.  We don’t know what it was, and on some level, this is clearly an invasion of their intimate moment.  And yet it was on the street, so we literally have the right to have captured it.  And the poignancy of the moment is, to us, sufficiently dramatic that of course we would have tried capturing it.  The correctness of whether we properly should now be sharing this with the world hangs before us.  We choose to believe, however, as a storyteller, as a dramatist, that a moment such as this, taking place on a stage such as that, captured as it was, deserves to be shared.  And so we have.

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