The Conversation

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I was waiting in a parking lot outside a hotel. A bellhop was talking with hotel patrons, describing an encounter where he was photographed by a local press photographer as he was walking down the street.

The conversation went something like this….

Bellhop
“This person came up and said they had photographed me and that they worked for the paper. They asked if they could use my name.”

Patron
“Oh.”
Bellhop
“But I said no way, I didn’t want to do that.”

Patron
“Oh no, don’t give them your name.”

Bellhop
“I mean a didn’t know what to do, but I just I wasn’t going to give them my name.”

Patron
“Oh no, you just don’t do that.” “What did they want?”

Bellhop
“They were going to run the picture in the paper”

Patron
“Oh.” (With Concern) “Did you make any money at least?”

Bellhop
“No, I didn’t even make any money.”

Now this might seem like an inconsequential event, but in my mind it speaks volumes about modern photography. Fear, suspicion and perhaps greed thrown in on top. What a strange and somewhat sad way to navigate the world. Having been a press photographer for several years it speaks to how things have changed in the modern world. People used to be excited about being in the paper.

17 responses to “The Conversation”

  1. xtian says:

    The meaning and impact of photographs has changed all around. In my little corner of photography I was able to have people willingly be photographed because I would give them good b&w prints afterwards, and they were considered a prized possession, no longer! So, I think the onus is on us as photographers to come to terms with ‘reality.’ Bemoaning the good old days is fun at times, but will not get us out of our doldrums, and as an old professor of mine used to say, “…the good old days’ ….they weren’t that good.”

    • Smogranch says:

      Christian,
      Another way of looking at it is “These ARE the good old days.” It’s one of the reasons I don’t shoot much anymore. Someone asked me yesterday if I would sell a book I’d done a while back and I said “Nope, no releases.” I’m looking for ways to be creative that aren’t related to photography. Writing, guitar, art, etc. I have more freedom and don’t have the hassle of engaging with a suspicious public.

  2. Paul Grossmann says:

    Same here. 18 years ago I photographed migrant workers in the field here in New Jersey. No problems.

    Last year I asked to photograph the baker at a French bakery “oh no! It’s a big cyber world out there.” needless to say all I walked away that day were a few fresh croissants.

    • Smogranch says:

      Paul,
      Suspicion is pretty pervasive. If you have enough time it normally works out, but people assume you are getting rich and famous off their image, and when you actually explain the realities, and economics of doing reportage, they often times don’t believe you. I always get “Then why on Earth would you do this work?” And, “Because I love it,” doesn’t seem to resonate with them.

  3. Yes it can be pervasive. However two years ago up in Maine I had ZERO problems with people. Not a single person had any hesitation when I very quickly asked if they minded if I took their picture. Nobody did. They didn’t even ask what I was doing this for. Maybe the less population, the easier it is?

  4. I stopped in to a local game store to shoot people playing cards. Teenaged boys.

    One table was totally fine.

    The next one had a guy who replied ‘that’s OK’ which I luckily figured out meant No.

    In this case it’s kids, and they’re playing games they probably take some grief for (which was the point of the shoot) so I totally get it.

    I thought the phrasing of No was pretty interesting though.

  5. xtian says:

    Thanks for your response Daniel, à propos it, I started thinking about the subject on a recent bicycle ride, and how I had previously never understood HCB’s decision to give up photography and go back to drawing/painting. Now, all of a sudden I got it!

    • Smogranch says:

      Christian,
      This is a HUGE part of why I’m writing more, learning to draw and there is a guitar at my feet as I write this. I don’t feel the same about photography as I once did.

  6. Dan have you gotten in trouble for selling a book with no releases in the past? I didn’t realize you were not photographing much any more.

    • Smogranch says:

      Paul,
      No, but I make very few books to sell. All the books I have sold are of people in public places. It’s so tricky today.

    • Yes it is very tricky today. It is almost enough to make you wonder what the point is in doing this at all. It’s discouraging at best and prohibitive at worst.

      Guess I’ll have to find those places where its more accepted. Surprisingly in NYC its pretty easy sometimes to photograph, but then a little scary to try and publish them anywhere.

  7. DJ says:

    For what it is worth, I have noticed a small “FILM Revival ” going on with younger people. I don’t spend too much time on social media, but these young folks are turning out fabulous work, some even doing wet lab darkroom prints. Then uploading to social media. [Film Is Not Dead, Film Revolution]

    As has been mentioned many times before, I don’t get the pushback so much with a small film camera as I do a big digital body and lens. I like the FM2 size camera and a vintage TLR is usually a good conversation starter.
    As in the old days, I offer nice prints to those who will allow me the honor to photograph them. I give them my contact info and if they follow up with me, I snail mail or meet them again and deliver the print. I have found this less intrusive than asking them for their address.

    I have started working a day job, so I can continue to shoot film, in vintage cameras, because I love it.
    Sometimes, word of mouth, helps, and I book a film gig- but I do not actively pursue them full time anymore. Who knows… with the new interest in film, by the younger folks, us old timers, can finally pass on our skills to interested artists and as the demand for hand crafted prints starts to grow, maybe I can build a part time gig back up again.
    Long Live Film !

    • Smogranch says:

      DJ,
      Yes, thankfully the kids are digging the analog ways, and the tech companies can’t ignore them. Tech NEEDS the kids, but the kids hold all the power.

  8. Mike A says:

    I photograph people that I don’t know a lot. Sometimes I get someone who doesn’t want to be in the paper and tell them hey that’s cool and we chat a bit and I move on. But I know what you’re saying, everything seems to be a hassle anymore with so many people lawyer happy. I’ve had one guy get really get upset with me about taking his photo without his permission and I calmly explained the law to him. I told him look dude I’ll delete it if it makes you happy it’s really no big deal. I always try to shoot photos that I wouldn’t mind someone shooting of my family. 99.9 percent of the time everything is fine, just treat people like you want to be treated.

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