One of the things that first got me interested in photography was looking at images that had been taken by photographers a long time before I was born. Some of them were just snapshots but others would today be classed as social documentary, recording a slice-of-life for us all to see.
Some of my favourite photographers, people like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, created images that told stories of everyday life. They recorded the things that happened around them, everyday events, social occasions and people going about their normal duties. They captured them on film and thanks to modern digitalisation they are there for us all to see today. In fact, we can learn about the way people lived by looking at and enjoying these images today.
Then, there’s my favourite street photographer of all time, Vivian Maier. Today, Maier would be classed as a hobbyist photographer – someone who takes photographs just for the pleasure of it. However, for those who know of her work, she is classed by many as possibly the best street photographer that has ever lived. Employed as a Nanny in Chicago and New York, Maier used her spare time to document the life that happened around her. She photographed everything; children playing in the street, homeless people begging for food, drunks being carried off by police, lovers holding hands in a restaurant - the list is endless. Yet, thanks to her skill, determination and effort it is all there for us to see and enjoy today.
But what about tomorrow? What will my great grandchildren have to look back on from today? The answer, unfortunately, is very little.
Today’s life is not being recorded in the same way. If you so much as produce a camera in a public place you are likely to get very stern looks form the people you point it at – and that’s if you’re lucky. Some street photographers have been threatened and actually assaulted for trying to capture everyday life. People tell you that you don’t have a right to take their photograph without their permission. Yet, they are already being photographed by several thousand CCTV cameras without giving permission for that.
If the public don’t stop you from taking photographs then it’s a strong possibility the security guards will. They often quote laws that don’t exist or even suggest that taking photographs in public areas could be classed as an act of terrorism. If questioned about the laws they are citing their most likely response is to involve the police.
Then, when the police do get involved, they also cite rules and regulations that have no relevance or jurisdiction over the taking of photographs in public places. The police will also, quite often, ask photographers to cease taking images or even request that the photographer deletes images from their camera. This is despite the police issuing guidelines for photography in public places stating that photographers must not be prevented from taking images and that officers have no right to ask a photographer to delete images.
As a result of all this, the sad outcome is that there are fewer and fewer photographers prepared to go out and record life around them today. Street photography is dying out. The Cartier-Bressons, Doisneaus and Maiers of yesterday don’t exist today.
Where does that leave us? Unfortunately it leaves us with the sad news that today has no history.
Images accompanying this article are © 2012 Maloof Collection, Ltd. — All Rights Reserved, and have been used by kind permission.
Terry McNamara is a Manchester based freelance and commercial photographer and photography tutor. Here you can keep up to date with the projects Terry is working on and whatever he may be currently thinking about.