This entry was created in response to the piece on Street Photography that was aired on WBZ (April 15, 2011). The spot was heavily biased, and can serve as an excellent example of how news is created, how fact is distorted, and how WBZ got the story they set out to find. All by design. If this is what happens with a minor story about street photographers, imagine what happens with major news stories.
At the beginning of the clip, the broadcaster, Jonathan Elias, speaks of photographers taking "unusual pictures" and yet he never saw a single photograph on which to base this allegation. Jim Armstrong and Ron, the cameraman, looked at the back of two of the photographer’s digital cameras. As the men willingly scrolled through their pictures, Ron recorded them on video. I shoot in film and was not asked to supply them with prints. I volunteered to send both men a sample of my photographs and did so later that evening.
Before I continue, consider this: a real predator would not have engaged the media to begin with. If we were truly part of a group that “aggressively hunts down women and children” we wouldn’t go to the same place almost daily. This is How-often-do-you-beat-your-wife? Journalism.
In all, we talked to Jim and Ron for a good half hour and, after we relaxed, we supplied them with what I thought to be good copy. I spoke of “self censorship,” that we don’t take pictures of children and that we don’t hunt down women for their body parts... I also mentioned Helen Levitt, (http://www.lensculture.com/levitt.html) a street photographer, whose most famous photographs are those of children playing in the streets of New York City. Both men engaged us in a friendly manner and we ended our conversation with a firm handshake. We even invited them to an upcoming photography show—with or without their cameras.
After reading the comments that accompanied the video and article, I thought it would be best to account for these “unusual pictures” to illustrate that the photographs themselves may not be unusual, but the method in which they were taken could be considered to be suspect. Even by myself. And I took them.
I am making no claims about the quality of these pictures. Some may like them, some may not, and, yes, even some may find them offensive. But in no way are these pictures “pornographic”. Part of my motivation is to explain that taking candid photographs of strangers in public may not always be what it seems. No one but the photographer can see through his lens, or know his intentions.
Although it is legal to take pictures of strangers in public, I don’t know too many people who are impressed by the law. It is a personal thing, and I do my best to take responsibility for my actions. I have been taking pictures on the street for about 7 years and have had dozens of encounters, made dozens of acquaintances, several good friends, and a handful of enemies. I understand that it is not the best way to win friends and influence people, and, over the years, I have modified my way of shooting accordingly. These days I use a 50mm lens, and shoot mostly at 8 to 15 feet (or more) away from my subjects. As far as my photography goes, I am more interested in the atmosphere of the street, or the subtlety of a gesture, or juxtaposition of bodies (not body parts) passing or the private face suddenly revealed in a public place.
There is a tradition in street photography of capturing motion, gesture, and light. Dating back to the turn of last century, many photographers illustrated motion, social status, and the human form by way of photographing people from the knees down. I sent Jim a follow up email about this type of photograph and attached 5 examples, including one of my own. Lisette Model, one of the best photographers of the genre, took several iconic shots of legs, and it was these pictures that gave me the inspiration to make this kind of photograph my own. Consider the picture to the left. Now consider what she had to do in order to get a picture at that angle?
In the summer and fall of 2010 I put together a foot and leg series called Big Feet, Small Feet, High-Heel Shoe Feet. Some of them I have posted on this blog. They are not representative of my work as a whole, which includes urban landscapes, portraiture, found still lifes, and various modes of street photography.
From the outside, I admit there's a peculiar aspect to the manner in which these photographs are taken. For the perverted mind that can only interpret these attempts as "up skirt" shots, I have no illusion that you’ll cease to ascribe the lowest motivation to anything that’s beyond your comprehension.
For the rest of you, please, consider what I’ve written, and, more important, consider the photographs themselves.
I can be reached at: Streetshot33@yahoo.com
Thank you for visiting, reading, and viewing this entry.
Excerpts from the emails I sent to Jim Armstrong follow the gallery of photos.
Pictures From Big Feet, Small Feet, High-Heel Shoe Feet
# 1 FEET PASSING
#2 THE FOCUSED FOOT
#3 HOMEWARD BOUND: Downtown Crossing
#4 GOING UNDERGROUND
#5 WALKING THE DOG
#6 ONE BLURRY FOOT TO STAND ON
#7 WORN DOWN / WORN OUT
#8 RED SKIRT IN DREAM-SCAPE
#10 THE BETTER VIEW
After our discussion on the street--it really turned into something of a discussion--I trusted that they would put together a balanced piece. If, that is, the story aired at all. Ever since I made my first (and only) film back in the '80s, I intuitively understood that the media can create the news to fulfill their own agenda through splicing images, overlaying dialog to drive a point home, and making people out to be freaks, perverts, idiots, angels, heroes, or saints. Even if I they manufactured a sensationalist piece of garbage, the impression I have, that they're basically good guys ,still stands. At least that's what I'd like to believe.
When I got home I sent Jim and Ron two emails. And, later, I sent a third and final one to Jim. I've yet to hear back from either of them.
I just wanted to give you a sample of what I'm trying to get at with . Also, I'd like to invite both of you to our opening...
Thanks for hearing us out and I appreciate the attention you gave to each of us.. Turns out I took a picture of the "whistle blower" last summer when he was seen photographing us in action and then, later, making videos. Anyhow, I hope you can appreciate that in order to do this kind of photography, you have to be a little wily and very sensitive to how one is being perceived. It's something we talk about quite often; the ethics of street shooting, that is, which is something entirely different than taking a legalistic, this is my First Amendment rights, line of thinking.
If you're interested in how street photographers approach street photography, here's a link to one of the more expansive photographers, :
Well, thanks for reading and I really hope this is the end of this (non)story.
Immediately after sending this email, I Googled WBZ to see if the piece had actually aired. Just as immediately, I sent a second email to Jim and Ron.
After further reflection, I emailed Jim a third and last time.
... here's a sample of some of the genre, regarding legs. I'm also including a photo of my own (if you want to skip to the picture, it's the last one). The reason I'm sending these pictures to you is because you guys missed an opportunity to educate the public rather than titillate it.
It's obvious that you don't know the genre or what kind of tradition there is when it comes to this kind of photography... or even who the main players are in Street Photography. Instead of educating the public (even in the briefest of terms) this piece plays into the paranoia of a public that is already paranoid enough. And you chose to disregard my comment about "self censorship" which was more to the point... (I just looked at the byline and was, again, disappointed that you wrote that piece.)
Anyhow, Jim, here are the attachments. There are 5 examples, mine being the last one. The idea is to give you an idea of the visual vocabulary we're working with.
By the way, the talking head (not David Byrne) added to the wrongheadedness of this piece. "Weird!" I can imagine that weird to him is putting coleslaw on a roast beef sandwich... anyhow, you made your report you'll go on to another story and the biased video will remain on the web...
PS Life goes on... you and Ron are still invited to the opening, with or without your cameras.
APRIL 22, 2011
MEET JOHN CARUSO: VIDEO MAN...
It’s been a week since WBZ aired their story on street photographers. If the piece was aired only on television, I wouldn’t bother going over it again, however, it’s on the web, been picked up by several sources. I've contacted a few of them, but not a single editor or reporter has answered my emails.
This morning I reread the WBZ piece and it occurred to me that they failed to properly investigate the origins of the video they received. Jim Armstrong wrote in his article:
A WBZ-TV viewer passed along some video he recorded at Downtown Crossing this week.
When I first contacted Armstrong, I sent him a photograph of the man who took the footage of us. The photo to the left was taken sometime during the summer or early fall of 2010. The editorial crew obviously didn’t bother to verify when this video was taken. It didn’t occur to them that, in the video, people are walking around in short sleeve shirts and that bicyclists can be seen peddling around in shorts. We had a few warm days during the week, but most people were still walking around wearing sweaters or light jackets. Jim Armstrong appears in the video wearing a windbreaker.
Above is a photograph of John Caruso, the man videotaping us. He followed us around for weeks, first with a camera, and then with a video camera, both of which, I’m fine with. First Amendment Rights don’t begin and end with street photographers. I never spoke to the guy, but some of the other photographers had, and they told me that Caruso was interested in street photography, and they engaged him on that topic.
You can see in photograph that Caruso is sitting at one of the cafe tables that are put out by the city of Boston. The tables are located in front of what used to be Filene’s Basement. As of today, April 22, 2011, those tables are still in storage. Why did he hold on to this tape during the long cold winter? Why was this evidence not turned over immediately? Why did he lie about when the video was taken?
This detail, in itself, is not a mind-blowing revelation, however, it is indicative of shoddy reporting and amateurish editorial oversight. It should serve as another example of what journalism is not.