The Stale Gaze

Although I don’t rule out taking photos of people, I have been very reticent since I read Susan Sontag’s essay. This post from The Dish captures my discomfort. (Photo by Marc Brüneke)

The Dish


Photographer John Rosenthal explains how taking photos of people, “strangers especially, can be a very tricky thing to do, ethically tricky”:

A photograph can extract people from the flow of their lives (and to some people that flow is everything). It can crop them from the lively space in which they live and have their being. A photograph can also secretly juxtapose people and objects in a highly suggestive way. Sometimes that’s a form of cruelty.

I recall a photograph I saw many years ago—I won’t say who took it—of a woman in a mink coat staring into a glittering jewelry store window on Madison Avenue.

She may have been idling away her time, as the rich often do, or she may have been returning home from a hospital visit to a friend who was ill. Her expression was haughty. The mink coat made it so. The photographer, of course,

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5 thoughts on “The Stale Gaze

  1. dapontephotography

    I to am not comfortably with street photography and have been confronted by people when simply standing on the street shooting photos of buildings, signs or other features. They accuse me of taking pictures of them as my camera is pointed clearly in an upward direction. Some of them I have had to actually show them the photos to make them go away. Paranoia?

    1. The Elemental Eye - Full Circle POV Post author

      I always carry a card, you know. Most of my work has been in rural areas, west of the Mississippi. What I run into is a sense of “you taking a picture of my town is taking a picture of me.” I’m a therapist, so the psychology of that is interesting to try to step into. When people, mostly men, approach and talk to me, they most typically ask if I’m with the government, especially the IRS. There is a level of paranoia out West about the Government.

      1. dapontephotography

        Yes, sometimes I have been asked who I work for or why am I taking a picture of that. But yes there is a big brother thing here in FL to. They focus on me while right above my head on the street corner there is a video camera which mostly goes unnoticed.

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