We’re on our way to a class and all of a sudden I spot her across the piazza. Is she waiting for a bus?, selling flowers? – she’s holding some flowers. Anyhow, up comes the camera, zoom out the lens. “Click.” Perugia is a bustling place. Students, tourists, people on their way to work. I walk hurriedly toward where she’s standing. “Poso photographie, Senora,” I smile. “Si,” she responds. Up comes my camera again – this time, ten feet in front of her. Just as I’m about to squeeze off the shot, her head turns toward the camera. Darn, I’m thinking. I like the more candid shots. I do another. “Grazie, Senora,” I thank her. She nods.
I hate pointing my camera at people just to capture the culture. How would I like it? Something inside doesn’t feel right – yet, I love those cultural Icons – natural, unposed – the story that’s told by those facial lines, gnarled hands, weathered expressions. For me, that more approaches the 1,000 words. So, I like to do a grab shot first then ask permission, in the language of the country, if possible.
With my Lady with Flowers image, I wouldn’t have expected those kind eyes, that simple smile – hidden from me, during the split second the viewfinder goes blank as the mirror slaps up. It’s hard to express that kind of reward. But getting the permission is also everything.
Being in another culture is more than just looking at churches or museums. Both Carol & I prefer to sit at a sidewalk cafe or seek out a back alley where the culture expresses itself. It’s what the picture says that is more important, in my view.
Sometimes, I sort of go undercover, using a wide angle lens to cover my interest in a shop keeper that I might just squeeze into the frame while pointing the camera away from them directly. I still like to get their permission, later, if they become the object of the image. If they’re just a part of the scene it’s less important, and sort of fun.
Learning to say “may I take your photo?” in another language does not have to be difficult.
On a last minute trip to Greece, I befriended a Greek traveler and asked how best to do it. Just hold your camera up he said and ask “Photographie?” “They’ll get the idea,” he said. The word “photographie” actually originated in Greece. Photo means “light.” Graphie means “word.” Writing with light or Communicating with photos.
This blog was inspired by a post from Rohn Engh’s Photo Letter PhotoSource International issue this week. For more information about doing Street Photography, go to Candids Are Legal… http://www.photostocknotes.com/psn