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.