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The Decisive Moment IV

A blog about photography with a slant toward photojournalism and documentary photography.

Photographing in Public Places

Public places have long been the creative playground for photojournalists. For decades photographers have gravitated to Coney Island because of its endless array of subjects. There's something about crowded, public places that lends itself to photographs.

While I never ventured to Coney Island with my camera, I did shoot at public events right here in Malverne. We used to have a fair each year called "Malverne Day." We may still have it; I don't know. Of course we still have the Memorial Day parade each year, which I've also photographed at.

I photographed these events in the 1980s when I was in high school and college. The world was a different place then. Most everyone I pointed a lens at knew I was photographing them and they didn't care.

If you look at the first two pictures I've posted here, both taken at Malverne Day, you can see just how close I was to the subjects. The first one, I've Got a Secret, was shot with a 35mm lens. That means I was even closer to the subjects than it appears. I was right on top of these kids, they knew they were being photographed, and they just didn't care.

The subject of the second picture is looking right at me. She didn't care, either. It was fairly easy to stroll around these events, photographing whatever subjects caught my eye, with no real fear of accusations or getting punched.

Those days are over.

Unfortunately for documentary photographers, the world is a very paranoid place these days. Everyone thinks a person with a camera is up to no good. In part we have the Internet to blame for this. All those questionable sites have made the general public scared. Then sensational news stories about people in authority abusing their positions don't help, either.  No one knows who to trust any longer. So they trust no one.

It's not entirely over, though. I attended a recent Memorial Day parade in Malverne and I shot the third picture I have posted, of a girl on Malverne High School's color guard team. I knew since she was a participant in the parade she'd have a reasonable expectation of having her picture taken. I took it and she didn't mind. (I eventually made a print of it which I gave to the music department chairman to give to her for me.)

On the other hand, after the ceremonies at the gazebo were over that day, I saw a group of kids, maybe around eighth grade, walking down Utterby Road. There were four or five of them and they certainly had a look about them. A look that would make a good photograph.

Long ago I would have walked up to them and asked if I could take their picture. But no more. I had no idea how they'd react to that these days. Perhaps they would have been thrilled with the idea, but something tells me their reaction would have been quite the opposite.

They walked on by and all I could think was, "There goes a missed opportunity."

Each spring the parishes and villages in the area have their annual bazaars.  A bazaar is another great, public place photographers love. And each spring I think how I would love to photograph at all of them and put together a photo essay of the subject. But then I have visions of myself getting arrested and I dismiss the idea.

I guess what it comes down to is my days of photographing in public places are just about over. Perhaps, you'll see me at next year's Memorial Day parade or Our Lady of Lourdes bazaar, but don't count on it.

Thank you for reading this.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gina Genti August 07, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Dave what about wearing some sort of "Press Badge" or something identifying you as a professional photographer?
Dave Paone August 07, 2011 at 08:53 PM
Sometimes that works but in order to be 100% truthful, I'd have to be there representing a publication and most of the time when I was shooting at such places I wasn't there in any official capacity. I just don't want to go through the hassle of having to explain my existence to anyone. Plus someone who's ready to slug me (another photographer I know came close to getting punched) isn't interested in a press pass. One way around this is to go to a place where there are lots of tourists, so EVERYONE has a camera, and then I blend in. I tried this at the Grand Canyon and it worked beautifully. There are no tourists at the gazebo, though.
Tom Grech August 08, 2011 at 11:04 AM
Dave-I like Gina's idea. And if you want I am almost certain that Mrs. Murphy at OLL would love to document this years' Bazaar during the weekend of Sept 30-Oct 2 as our photog. I will ask. Lastly, thanks for your kind donation of your Dad's University of Scranton photos, posters and memorabilia...much appreciated. Please send him our regards.
Dave Paone August 08, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Thanks for the offer but what I haven't written in any of these blogs is that my days of shooting new marterial are over with the exception of whatever I shoot for Patch and the other paper I work for. I'm in the process of printing all my unfinished work from the past 30 years for presentation and I have 72 more enlargements to make, matt and frame... quite a job. Then I'll close the book on photography and start painting. Hmm... sounds like the topic of a future blog.

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