City Hall

City Hall, Adrian, Michigan. September 21, 2013.

City Hall, Adrian, Michigan. September 21, 2013.

Went downtown this morning for the annual Artalicious Street Fair, and captured this man smoking a cigarette outside City Hall.

The photo has been cropped and had some adjustments to the sharpness and lighting (with the guidance of my wife, the excellent graphic designer). I don’t know if street photography is supposed to be pure and “authentic”? Are there norms on this?

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
This entry was posted in Street Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to City Hall

  1. Dr X says:

    Nice shot, James.

    Re processing, IMO, no norms. Of course, you want the best possible shot you can take, but my experience has been that most people do at least some processing. Except, perhaps, with Polaroids, processing choices have always been part of photgraphy for the pros, though obviously there are more options now and they’re accessible to us amateurs. About half of my photos get some lighting adjustment and maybe 75% are cropped to some extent. That can be especially necessary in street photography when you’ve got to shoot fast or you’ll miss something. I do a lot of discreet hip-shooting, a difficult, but legit street photography aproach to preserve candor. It’s almost impossible to perfectly frame those shots and a fair number go badly wrong.

    If you’re interested in a peek at what I’ve been doing,

    Moth on a Window
  2. Matty says:

    DrX I’ve got to ask, some of your photos are pretty much portrait shots not just capturing a person but focused in on them. Do you have issues with getting consent or are people generally ok?

  3. Dr X says:

    Some I ask, but I’ve got a lot of techniques I use to shoot without asking or getting punched in the nose. So far the worst I’ve gotten are some dirty looks.

    Some street shooters write about occassional issues with people who get pissed off because they think it’s illegal. It isn’t, at least not in the US. But I don’t shoot kids, without parent permission. Even though it’s legal without permission, it tends to freak parents and draw police attention, understandably.

  4. Dr X says:

    I should add that sometimes people smile and react positively or strike a pose. Or they see me after I’ve shot and smile.

  5. pierrecorneille says:

    Dr. X,

    Whether it’s legal or not and whether it’s harmful or not aren’t the only issues. Is it an ethical thing to do if someone doesn’t want their picture taken or posted on the internet? I lean toward saying no. (While I suppose this is an implicit criticism of you, I should say I don’t particularly mean to condemn you. Just my unsolicited view on the topic.)

  6. trumwill says:

    I think it’s ethical so long as you follow Do Unto Others. Taking a picture of some dude smoking outside City Hall? No problem. I was once walking along the beach and out in the middle of nowhere, maybe a half-mile from anything, was this young woman, in a bathing suit, sitting on a towel, head in her hands crying. It would have made for a marvelous photo (it’s been over 15 years and I remember it vividly), but I’d have issues with that one (at an odd, but deeply vulnerable, moment.)

    Not that I take pictures of people, but those are probably the guidelines I would use. I think privacy concerns, while legitimate, are outweighed by what we society as a whole would lose if we thought consent was necessary.

  7. pierrecorneille says:


    You may very well be right, and despite my above-stated opinion, I’m not on a moral crusade to stop the practice. And yes, good liberal that I am, I’m willing to admit that the needs of society for good art might have to outweigh the rights of the individual to privacy. (I’m being deliberately punchy here. I know it’s not just about art, but also about living in a free society where the alternative would be for the state to limit who can take pictures of what. I do still wonder if there ought to be some right to sue in extreme cases, but then, where would one draw the line?)

    All that said, I think it’s important that the one doing unto others realize that the others might have different thresholds for what is acceptable. Your example of the woman crying is an easy case. And I, for one, usually don’t mind having my picture taken, especially if I don’t have to pose for it. But I’ve known people who really dislike it when it’s not done on their terms, or who for professional reasons are very wary of how their image is used (they don’t want something out there that a potential employer might stumble on, for example). What might seem innocuous to the person taking the photograph might seem a vulnerability to the one whose photograph is taken.

  8. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Dr. X–Thanks for the link to your photostream. I have enjoyed looking at your pictures at your blog.

    Pierre–I get your concern and feel it, too. I think keeping the subjects anonymous (unless they agree to disclosure of their identity) is an absolute must.

  9. Dr X says:

    I understand the ethical concerns and have wrestled with them myself. To understand my thinking, we’d have to go back in time. Hope you don’t mind the essay that is about to happen.

    I began with studying and repairing thousands of documentary photos over the course of 8 years–I guess what you could call an obsession and compulsion developed. In the beginning, I wasn’t doing any shooting but over time an eye for the shot developed to the point that, everywhere I turned, I would say to myself: “great photo, right there!” No training, just painstaking work with pixels in great work over the course of years. Prior to that time, my photo abilities were, frankly, shit. I would think I was taking great shots, then I’d look at them and say “meh, not as good as I thought.” I still can’t plan a photo as much as see it when it occurs. Example, a friend asked me to photograph her dog, and I told her I didn’t know if I could because I’m bad at setting up photos. About an hour later, the photo materialized right in front of me, and this made my friend happy.

    In addition to restoring great old work, I extensively researched the photographers and people in photos. Some of that I published, but most of it remains private. I’ve also contributed a good deal of info to the Library of Congress image collection.

    In the course of all this, I’ve heard from children and grandchildren of famous and not-so-famous photographers and descendants of photo subjects, including a few celebrity subjects. The email exchanges have been informative and extremely gratifying. People want their loved ones and ancestors to be remembered. My efforts even even ended up popularizing some unknowns and little knowns that I’d ferreted and restored from library collections. At one time, my restorations were getting 10-15k hits a day.

    Anyway, I guess the obsession, coupled with compulsively seeing the shot, overtook my ethical reservations. I realize it’s a rationalization, but many great photogs did and do candid documentary work, and without that work we lose Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank and many others.

    And there’s another element of the story that I only recognized in time. I realized that less than fully conscious motives for restoring documentary photos was driving me. When you develop a sudden obsession, you should ask why and eventually I did. First, I realized that I was incorporating (into my self) an important aspect of someone I lost to a terrible death that absolutely shattered me. Looking at and preserving documentary work was a way to hold on to that person by doing something that was related to their work. Second, my interest in the lives of photographers and photo subjects centered specifically on vintage photos. I think the art was initially incidental to looking at people who had died, many of whom were unknown or forgotten. Restoring the photos, learning about the people involved and even connecting with families was my way of coping with loss and death. The idea that people are forgotten or that they become little more than a name on a stone troubled me. And I think I’m particularly drawn now to uploading street photos to the cloud because these thousands of ordinary people I see passing through daily life will almost all be unknown one day not to far off. I suppose I’m creating an illusion of immortality.

    I know that this doesn’t address the ethical concerns raised by Pierre, but maybe it makes my compulsion a bit more understandable. A little dark humor for the camera shy: when you’re dead, this picture of you alive will look really, really good.

    If you look at my stream, you’ll see a recent image of a kid curled up sleeping on the L train. We had a brief discussion in the comments about my qualms posting it, but you’ll notice that what enters into my view is distress about people who are ignored and forgotten. Forgetting lives is a big part of this.

    I may do another post of worst reactions from street subjects, best reactions and a couple of stories of interaction with subjects, like these people I shot zone-style while sitting on the ground looking up at a doorway.

    After I shot, I got up and talked with them about what I do and asked if I could shoot a few more. My favorite part of this one is the guy in the window, who is like. WTF? I wish I had a shot from his vantage point.

    Interesting occurrence, one time I was doing zone shots at a Starbucks and to my surprise, photographed Gary Wills.

    A zone shot, if the name doesn’t make it evident, involves picking a location in a high traffic area with the right light and backdrop, focus into the frame and wait for someone interesting to step into the frame. Shots from the hip and ground shots are usually most interesting. If anything, people tend to think they’re disrupting your shooting. The train is more challenging, but those are my favorites.

    Next step in my plan is to get cards made up with email address and link to the photos. I’d like to approach more people directly, explain what I do and learn how to shoot portraits of strangers in public. I’m a fan of the work of a few people who do this extremely well, but I need a better camera, practice and better technical skills.

    I hope this wasn’t too much, but everyone in my personal life is accustomed to me shooting all the time (I’m never unarmed) and peole have generally been interested in the story of how and why this obsession developed, and what it is I’m doing that makes these stranger-shots “look good” given I have cheap equipment, no training and am mostly SLR illiterate.

  10. pierrecorneille says:

    Thanks for relating your personal experience. I still have the qualms I do, but it’s good to hear it from your perspective.

Comments are closed.