Permission to photograph

On Sunday my hubby and I visited Horšovský Týn, the town we assigned to February in our photo project. It was a cold but sunny day and provided for a great photo walk. We enjoyed it thoroughly but three times we ran into a situation we had to deal with which I would like to discuss here.

The first situation happened when I was walking along a street and came to a passage leading to a yard. I loved the light showing there! There was an open door in the passage and I heard music playing and people talking and it sounded as if a group of people was enjoying a friendly meeting. I was thinking first whether or not it would be appropriate to take a photo but then I decided to try to capture that light in the yard. There was nothing personal, no people, no mess, just a nicely lit space. When I was aiming my camera at it, a man with a woman came out of the door inside and when the man saw my camera, he asked me what I was photographing there. I told him that it was the light in the yard as it looked beautiful and he was looking at me as if I was speaking a different language. I can understand that. I smiled at them and told them that I was not inspecting anything. I left and they raised no more objections so I kept the photo.

Then we continued our walk and a few house blocks further, I stopped intrigued by great-looking clouds combined with electrical lines above the houses. I aimed my camera at them, high up, and tried a few compositions, when a woman appeared behind a curtain in a window right across the street and hurried out to ask me what I was photographing there and whether I was hired by a newspaper. I said I was not, I was there just for fun and aimed at the lines, not at her house and I offered her to look at the screen of my camera to prove my words. She politely refused to look at the camera but seemed to accept my explanation, told me I could keep photographing and left with a smile.

About an hour later we came to a different part of the town. My hubby was taking a photo of an interesting building when an old woman who was shuffling along the sidewalk with the help of a walking aid came near him and told him loudly and disagreeably that he should not take photos of her because she is an old woman. He was aiming his camera in a completely different direction with no intention of photographing her so she quite surprised him at the moment. He assured her of his intentions and continued capturing the building. About half an hour later we came across her again when I was taking a photo of a gate in the main square and when she saw me, she cried aloud that we might have done it on purpose and were stalking her. I wanted to take another photo of the gate but for the sake of calming her I chose to leave…

The situations were not serious but totally out of my comfort zone, I’ve never ran into so many on just one occasion. I could come up with quite a few plausible hypotheses why the people reacted like they did and emotions such as fear, guilt, suspicion, insecurity or sheer curiosity would play their role in them, but how should I handle them? I don’t want to get discouraged by people telling me what I can photograph or not if it’s not limited by any regulations.

I understand that people may not like when you photograph (or just seem to photograph) them or their property because they don’t know what your intentions are and try to protect themselves so I’m willing to explain and discuss. I’m also willing to delete the photo if they had a problem with it but I would weigh their and my reasons and the circumstances.

There is always the option to choose another photography path, photographing a landscape or still life arrangements seems so much easier with regard to my personality. Yet I love this documentary photography, the capturing of the towns and their many aspects and I feel attracted to it deeply. Sometimes choices that are easy are not the ones to be made if you want to grow and be true to yourself.

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