How many of you are awful at handshakes? I mean, you probably have the handshake down, but you never really know what the other person is going to do. You have the people who greet you with a fist bump, you have those that shake and hug, you have the ones who are at times a bit too formal, and then you have the individuals who shake your hand like they really need a job.
A while back I went to an event and this exact encounter happened. Before I tell the story I'd like to say that I have two different variations of greeting people, a handshake, not too firm, not too soft, and a fist bump. How I decide which one to apply during a conversation is completely random... At least, I thought.
I walked up to a group of people, who were already in mid-conversation, a slightly older lady walked up during the same time, I said hello to the two gentlemen talking before me, and offered them handshakes, they accepted and gave me a very firm welcome, the lady soon began to speak after we introduced ourselves, she reached her hand out for a handshake and the gentlemen denied it and greeted her in a different manner. He bent her hand almost as if he was going to kiss it, looked at her and her eyes and gave her a warm welcome to the group, it wasn't anything like our encounter.
She looked baffled, not offended, but curious and she didn't hold her tongue. She wanted to know why she was treated differently. He went on to explain that women are queens and they are likely of a softer nature, thus, his handshake was instilled to replicate that same notion. This brought up an interesting conversation about stereotypes. The next gentlemen went on to say that he does the same thing, except he doesn't just limit his variant of handshakes to the opposite sex, but to those of color as well. When he says an African American he opts for a head nod as oppose to any handshake, when he sees a well-dressed person it's more formal and if it's a familiar face than it's more friendly.
This above story simply sets the tone for the next few paragraphs. We treat people differently based on preconceived notations, I'm not here to say it's wrong or right, but if it's being done in a natural setting in which I was involved in yesterday than I know we are doing it in our creative approaches as well.
Don't Judge, Read
One of my more recent encounters in street photography was with this gentleman to the right. I recorded my short street session with them, in the video they were respectful, kind with their time and overall good people, but it took me several minutes to decide to even walk over there. I was afraid. If I started photographing them would they rob me? Were the gangsters? Several thoughts ran through my head. On most of my street walks, I have a friend on the phone with me, it helps me cope during those boring moments where I'm waiting for something to happen. I remember asking my friend if it was a smart idea to head in that direction. I started to describe the two men and the tone I set was basically that they were drug dealers posted at the corner store. He told me that it wasn't a good idea, but at the end of the day, I felt as though the opportunity may have been greater than the risk so I went for it. Will get into what happened a bit later, but for now, I want you to think, how many times have you been in this situation? How many times have you passed up an opportunity like this?
I for one didn't want to pass up another one. In the past, I'd always tell myself that it wasn't that great of a photo anyway. Guy in front of store... Not the most appealing. But in this moment, in this instant, I realized it wasn't about that. It was about capturing a moment, not capturing a super interesting one. It was about getting over fear, so when I'm in a situation where it is a great photo opportunity I'm prepared and not afraid to initiate.
I walked over to the two gentlemen, with my friend still on the phone, as soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk they said "take our picture bro", an unexpected greeting, and just like that we started shooting. I fired off a few rounds in their desired set position and slowly started to work my way around the scene. We talked for a bit, but I had to end the conversation short due to my memory card not being formatted. The entire counter was great, we exchanged Instagram handles and I sent them their photos... They were just two men trying to promote their music, despite our choice of clothing, we were essentially the same people, just promoting different creative ideas.
I made a video of this entire session, again this plays back to risk vs reward. Not only did I get solid photographs from these two but I was able to produce something for my YouTube channel as well.
When it comes to street photography it's important to be safe, but you have to understand that street photography is about capturing everyone's story, not just the old lady, or the guy smoking the cigarette, or the girl with the umbrella, it's about paying attention to moments that other's don't necessarily notice. When most people apply a certain stigma to an individual on the streets they tend to walk away or ignore them... As a photographer, it's your job to ignore the stereotype and capture that moment.
It's not only in the hood, but we see it in several type of situations. One thing that should be photographed more is kids, people steer away from kids, I understand it's not a situation where you can just go to your local park and photograph the kids playing, but it is a moment in our history that needs to be documented.
Living downtown results in me rarely seeing children. But every so often we'll get a few roaming around. I walked around the city during Christmas Eve and I noticed that a shit ton of people was at Campus Martius ice skating, it's rare that Downtown Detroit is heavily populated so I took a chance and headed in that direction.
It was the first time all year that I've seen that many people in one area. No one even noticed me... Which is rare. Typically in my photographs, you'll see a lot of isolation, but this was a time to fill the frame, so I tried my hardest to do so. I only had my iPhone on me, but I told myself I'm going to capture something, as I knew after this day it was all going to come down.
I entered the heart of the fun and thought it may be a good shot if people were sitting down and taking their ice skates off, drinking hot chocolate or just chatting. After a few seconds, I saw this lady who looked extremely lonely, and I thought, wow this is a good opportunity. I framed my phone and started firing, around the 3 or 4th shot a group of kids ran into my frame, and I was pissed. The noise they made caused the lady to shift her position and the shot was no longer there. When I got home I reviewed the photo, and I was pleased to see that I actually captured the kids in focus (kind of) as well... I really liked how it turned out.
I was never judged as a pedophile, nor did I come off as one. I was just trying to document a moment that I deemed as interesting, kids happened to be there, and when I photographed more of them no one said anything. The key is to shoot it like everything else, I wasn't trying to hide or be sneaky, I was upfront and normal acting. I also tried to stay a solid distance, remember you're capturing a moment, not a portrait, move back some to allow other elements into the frame.
Remember these moments need to be documented, also remember when you think about stigmas and stereotypes that you have to ignore them... And not just the ones you apply to other people, but to the ones people may apply to you. Get out there and shoot what you have in mind... Ignore the noise and capture the moments that'll change the opinions of others.