I hate it when I’m framing a shot on a Manhattan street and people who are walking along and about to enter into the frame stop and wait for me to snap the shot. They’re being polite, of course, but in a tediously mundane and American middle-class way, which is to say a form of politeness that says “we don’t get it.” Know this and know it well — people who stop and wait for you to take a shot don’t get it.
If you’re in the shot then you’re in the shot, and if you’re not then you’re not in the shot. If I see somebody about to take a photo on a New York street I walk right the fuck in front of them every time. If I wind up in somebody’s Flickr album then so be it. And I don’t then I don’t. Everyone is in everyone’s else’s photo album, and the chances are it’ll be a better shot if someone happens to wander into the frame. It almost always is.
Most people don’t understand this. A photo taken in a crowded city full of life and energy is always better if something untidy happens. Your shot of Aunt Mabel standing in front of a horse-drawn buggy in Central Park is always improved if a derelict happens to stumble into the shot, or if Glenn Kenny is strolling along the footpath and happens to be captured as he walks by. Or if a cop on horseback is clopping along and becomes part of the shot. Or if a dog wanders into the frame.
Plain old shots of Aunt Mabel standing and smiling in front of a horse are bad pictures because aside from the “say cheese!” aspect they’re about suppressing life in order to create a regulated and somewhat banal thing. In this sense I feel that they represent a kind of middle-class cancer of the soul. Life is not tidy or “posed,” and it wouldn’t hurt if this idea got around a bit more, especially among people from Iowa. Aunt Mabel can still smile if life intrudes into the shot and you can still make sure she’s in focus, but life is not a showroom for Nordstrom bedroom settings.
We’re all “in the movie.” Nothing matters. There is no “privacy.” Security cameras and satellite cameras tape everyone all the time for no reason other than rote surveillance. If a fellow human being captures your puss in a photo it’s at least being done with a personal motive of some kind. Live with it, groove with it, be here now.