To shoot or not to shoot

I respect those photographers who, like Bruce Gilden, Diane Arbus, Dawoud Bey, Fred Herzog and others, wield their camera no matter the subject; and the war photographers, the news photographers, the brave women and men who “shoot first and ask later,” if they ask at all. Not to say they don’t confront their subjects, that they don’t perhaps feel for their subjects’ privacy, but in the end, as professionals, they live to photograph. 

In some way I would like to be more aggressive in that way, but I find street photography really challenging, especially with marginalized people. I feel I must first ask, or if I shoot before asking, I’ll talk with the subject later. If they don’t want to be photographed, I won’t (or I won’t take another shot). And so what: my livelihood doesn’t depend on it.  

In the first photograph in this series, the four of them were drinking, one had passed out, while the guy on the left, annoyed that I was taking their photograph,  said, “one photo, one beer.” Later, after dropping into a nearby liquor store, I brought them each a can.  It was amusing and perhaps fair, but at the same time, I felt I had compromised a “no payment” principle of photojournalism. 

I hesitate even showing the third photo: my brother, his two daughters and my sister kneel next to our mother, dying at home. She was 92; a week earlier she’d been out walking and having dinner with us, then a massive aneurysm left her comatose. I didn’t take many photos of her then (and wish I had); one has to decide at the moment which is your priority: the subject’s wishes and privacy or your photography.

Then there are those street photos where I’m comfortable shooting first and talking to them after, if at all. The guy with the magazine didn’t want his picture taken; the man reading the book outside Giancarlo’s didn’t know I was shooting him, and the fellow with the bagpipes I first asked if I could shoot, got him to resume playing and then later sent him this image and a colour shot. 

Alison and Lola

The other day I was able to leave work early, and walked up Commercial Drive in Vancouver, where I saw this woman coming toward me carrying a shivering chihuahua. I asked if I could shoot a portrait of them. 

“It’s her first day in Canada,” Alison told me. “She’s a rescue from Mexico and I just picked her up.” These photographs are the first she has of her new best friend. Alison later wrote me, after I’d sent her the images, “These photos are amazing and I truly appreciate it and love them. Such a nice gift you captured on one of the greatest days of my life.”

She hadn’t named the dog when we met, but said she was considering Lolita or Lola. I thought Lola the better name, there’s the Kinks song, there’s that great action movie, Run Lola, Run. 

Lola it is. Welcome to Vancouver, little one. 

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