I took the image above yesterday around 6:30pm. Unassuming, anonymous and stepping out of my apartment building in downtown Brooklyn to a comfortable fall evening.
The question that emerges here is this: should I have asked this man for his permission in shooting him as the subject of my photograph? As a vendor in a public space, albeit his work space, I consciously waited for his head to turn before closing the shutter. I didn’t want his face to appear in the image; I didn’t want to ask his permission for a photograph. I wanted to shoot the image at that moment and in as natural a setting as possible. It was my desire for him to remain unguarded. Some may say I was wrong – I should’ve asked for his permission. Seeing he is the subject, he has the right to express his dis/approval for my actions. In theory, I agree, respect and consideration should and do enter the equation. However, it’s a public space and while I don’t intend on using the image for publication purposes, does exercising my rights as a hobbyist photographer trump his when shooting a casual picture? Is this a matter of intent? On the flip side of the coin, some may argue that by asking for permission you’re losing a quality of the image that can only be captured “in the moment.” Stopping to speak to him renders a studio-like scene for the subject(s) which may have its advantages depending on your objective. If I chose to publish this image in a professional manner or caption the photo with a misleading/debasing statement, I understand that qualifies as a reason to request his permission vs. just innocuous portraiture but where my understanding becomes blurred is in the decision – to ask or not to ask.
I know there is discourse on humanitarian photography concerning how images are used, particularly of those in conflict or crisis situations. The topic is sensitive and one that I’m sure endures unending discussion/debate. But could you argue that for any image you take of any person in public requires the permission of the subject? Is this reasonable? We could go around in circles about the ethics of photography for hours…
Where though, do we draw the line as photographers?