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I’m honored to present Valérie Jardin for my latest interview in my Ethics in Photography series.
Valérie is a documentary photographer, author, podcaster, and educator known for her striking black & white street photography (and color, too!) using just the JPEGs out of her trusty Fujifilm X100 series.
Her latest book, Street Photography Assignments: 75 Reasons to Hit the Streets and Learn is a great resource if you’re looking for ways to improve your street photography. The assignments, which don’t necessarily need to be completed in order, are thought-provoking and fun for photographers of all abilities.
Street photography never really interested me, but this started to change once I noticed her work. I signed up for one of her single-day workshops when she was in my neck of the woods and I learned a great deal about the art, becoming more comfortable with it. I was also extremely grateful to be invited as a guest on her popular photography podcast.
Ethics in Street Photography
In this interview, Valérie discusses ethics in street photography.
Street photography is a controversial genre of photography. Many folks out on the street minding their own business are rightly concerned about photographers invading their privacy. But, according to laws in most countries, there is no privacy guaranteed in public places.
So who is in the right? The person who doesn’t want their photo taken? Or the photographer who is “within the law”? Additionally, many photographers are exploiting people in vulnerable situations because they think it makes the photograph more “interesting.”
These are all things that street photographers should consider to respect their subjects, respect photography, and don’t make it more difficult for future generations of photographers.
You can see Valérie’s work, check out her books, learn about her workshops, and subscribe to her podcast all through her webpage at valeriejardinphotography.com.
Also, be sure to subscribe to her Instagram feed for daily inspiration on documentary photography @valeriejardin.
Our interview below:
Why are ethics important in street photography?
Respect of the subject IS the most important thing and the only rule in my opinion. That’s why it is so important not to photograph people in vulnerable situations or in situations of crisis or ridicule.
For example, if you photograph homeless people, it should be done in a social documentary way, to raise awareness about the growing problem. Doing so involves making a connection first, photographing second. The photographer has to begin with giving the person a sincere handshake, listening to his/her story, and making a visual account with a series of photographs. Photographing homeless people just because they are readily available on the sidewalk is rude and disrespectful.
Also, humor in street photography is a very difficult assignment because it has to be subtle. Making fun is easy; subtle humor requires skills and discernment.
Are there any trends in street photography that, in your view, don’t meet the spirit of ethical photography?
Provoking eye contact or using a flash are two disrespectful ways of shooting street photography. You can be close without being ‘in your face’. Eye contact can make a really strong photograph if it is spontaneous.
Below is an example of spontaneous eye contact. It should happen organically, not be forced, and respected when the subject signals that they don’t want their photo captured.
Everyone has to right to let you know that they are uncomfortable to be photographed, and the photographer should not push it, even if the law is on her/his side.
Such practices are giving street photography a bad reputation and it’s very sad.
There are many ways to photograph life on the streets without revealing the identity of your subject (I wrote the book ‘Anonymous‘ about that). Children are especially vulnerable and the photographer can make beautiful photographs without showing faces. It’s actually much more challenging because the subject, light, and backdrop have to be even stronger.
Silhouettes and shadows are also fun to capture on the streets. A different point of view will also protect the identity of the subject. Eye contact can be very powerful when it happens organically. But emotion will always be stronger in the facial expression; nothing can quite replace that.
Photographing faces of anonymous children in public can be both morally and legally dubious, especially in today’s day and age. In situations like this, finding angles to hide their identity is a viable solution and can still make a strikingly strong photograph.
Is there any situation that you wish you handled differently, in terms of ethics?
No, I’ve always been very respectful and never found myself in any trouble.
I have photographed people in situations that I wouldn’t share on social media, out of respect. I seek the beauty in everyday life, not provocation or ridicule.
Which questions can photographers ask themselves when they point the camera at someone to remind themselves of ethical photography?
It’s as simple as putting yourself in the shoes of the subject you’re photographing.
Many thanks to Valérie Jardin for her time and for sharing her photos & insights into ethics in street photography.
The last line really sums it up. Ethics in street photography involves swapping roles. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and asking yourself if you’d want to be photographed in that situation. If you take away one thing, that’d be it.