“..next time, stick around, don’t be afraid to engage with him, in a general way, and if he asks (why are you taking so many pictures), you can tell him its a study of life on the street, and that he happens to be a perfect fit, for part of it.
This way you can build a relationship with him, and trust, and you will get astonishing images worthy of note, as long as you maintain a core vision of how the symmetry of the elements work together in the frame, then your images will fucking explode.”
I also live and shoot in Seattle and have done for 12 years. Seattle is possibly one of the most photographer friendly cities outside of NYC. It is also one of the best places I’ve worked for the most incredible light which lasts for 5 months of the year, and is peaking July to October.
Seattleites are pretty reserved and have become used to photographers, when I first started here there was about 3 or 4 regular downtown street photographers and two more who were both mail delivery people. By about 2010 there was about 15 regulars and now I don’t know.
My behavior on the street is that I walk to my spots with my gear on full view, and I’ll typically scan the scene for a few minutes and then as things appear I will shoot. I’ve recently been doing a lot more video work which involves a tripod and two lenses. I’ve had 2 people this summer stop and ask what I’m doing.
I basically go into a scene with an intent and respectful command, and I will just start working like there was nobody there at all. I’m an exceptionally shy person who has to bring up my reserves of confidence to actually do this at all, and it is even harder when someone stops to ask, but I can do that now and I do it very well. I made my introductions with beat cops, and explained what Im doing by making a half page flyer and handing it out after an introduction, along with my ID. Now they know that I’m there doing my thing, and if I ever get grief from anyone they already have a little background on me upfront.
Very very rarely will someone get huffy about having their picture taken (and usually people get upset if they think they have been singled out) and if so Ill stop, if Im wearing sunglasses, Ill take them off make eye contact and offer to shake their hand and explain that Im an artist and invite them to see what I’m doing. I’ll offer them a business card, a nice high quality card that says, yes I’m serious about this work.
I believe that if I’m going to ‘use’ people as my characters models whatever, then they have a right to know what I’m doing and invite them to be involved with viewing the work. I offer them cards most take them and I very very rarely hear from anyone afterwards, however, I do make a big deal about them going to the sites and looking at the work, to educate them on my ‘vision’ and what I’m trying to achieve.
Basically if you treat everyone that you are shooting, like they are gods, and that you wouldnt, or couldnt, be there, to do what you do, if it wasn’t for them, and you tell them that, then they will have a radically different attitude towards you next time. And it gets passed on to their friends also.
I always give my name first, if there’s a particularly warm vibe at the end of a conversation then you ask their name and offer to shake hands, and the next time they see you, you will get a nice smile or an amazing photograph.
At the end of the day nobody wants to feel as though they are being abused or exploited, and ultimately we as street photographers are exploiting them because they are there. But our job is to be emissaries and educators for our art.
I love and respect all of the people I photograph on the streets. I see you, and I see you in the fragmented moments when you are off guard, unaware, and existing in the space between consciousness and biology.
To my heroes, my street loves; my respect, always.
I’ve lived in Seattle since November 25th 2004, and in that time I have seen some slow changes, lost touch with a lot of people who moved on, disappeared left town etc. It’s really not until 2013 that the physical changes happened in the city that I could start to think I was living in a dynamic place.
I came to the US with an expectations of grandeur.
I was really surprised when I got to New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and DC and was hit in the face with the fact that these were aging cities, and the sense that the people living there, really didn’t have much actual control or say over anything that went on, because democracy got in the way. Id assumed the US was bright shiny and new.
As a European, I had always grown up with places that were maintained and there was a real sense of local pride and everyone was involved in it.
Over the years and traveling around, I’ve seen enough of it to tell me that this country is definitely a continent in decline. A place strangled by conservative values, and disregard for everything except money.
The US is definitely not a place I want to grow old in, and yet, I don’t know where else there is now that hasn’t adopted the same capitalistic values, and with that the utterly destructive nature of that which is held in high regard: individualism.
I once had the bright idea of taking pictures of newspapers, periodically while on my travels.
In the US its easy to do this because of these street-side vending machines where the top half of the front page is displayed, and that basically all I need.