I was particularly struck by Ryan’s Picturing the Empire Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire and the issue that Thomson had in documenting the natives on his travels. Reading about Thomson’s difficulty in getting consent was because the camera was seen, as taking a picture of someone’s soul: powerful indeed, particularly in a social reform context. But the power of the camera is its ability allow the viewer to “see without being seen” as Ryan writes: “This concern with securing photographs without the knowledge of the subjects being photographed is perhaps an appropriate metaphor for the ambition of regimes of colonial representation: to see without being see” (pg. 144). I immediately thought about the question “How do you legitimize yourself as a street photographer–do you ask the person, ‘may I take your picture?’ Or do you stealthily observe and take pictures without asking?
As we talked in class it is interesting to compare Thomson and Doré, because Doré as an artist using a very different medium, was able to recreate spaces that Thomson would not have been able to capture at the time. We know from Thomson that he interacted with his subject abroad and in London because due to the technology he had to have cooperation. I don’t know how Doré worked. Was he able to sit down in the middle of a street and sketch? Or maybe he went into buildings and observed from above? What about the fact that London was so populated that he probably couldn’t see much anyway?
As always I’m amazed how these questions around consent and “who is viewing whom and for what purpose?” continue to be pertinent today. The street photography that we have studied in Thomson evolved to include much more than documenting the poor.
The term is now mostly associated with; you guessed it, fashion photography. I particularly have in mind Bill Cunningham and Scott Schuman, both photographers in New York City with very different styles at approaching their subjects.
Cunningham doesn’t appear to interact with his objects as much as Schuman does. Through interviews and his pictures he doesn’t necessarily ask permission to take a picture. He’s more like the paparazzi, quietly observing, except for one important factor—that everybody wants to have their picture taken by Bill. Even Anna Wintour mentions in the documentary film that if Bill doesn’t take your picture then you know what you are wearing is not sensational.
Meanwhile, Scott interacts with his subjects, asks if he can take their picture and stages them the way he wants–looking directly in at the camera. He is consciously creating a conversation between subject and viewer whereas Bill is more likely to take people in action; crossing the street with their backs to us, walking by as they go on their daily commute.
Street Fashion Photography also brings a host of different issues concerning the representation and objectification of bodies. With Bill Cunningham, there is more often a sense of voyeurism. With Scott Schumann, there is more often a sense of scrutiny on both the subject and viewer. But the question still remains how would you legitimize yourself as a photographer? Because these photographers then can change these images to fulfill their vision.
Pictures of Bill: http://reno-rambler.blogspot.com/2011/09/sunday-morning-music-velvet.html
Pictures of the Sartorialist: http://www.thesartorialist.com/photos/on-the-street-just-off-broadway-new-york-2/