Ah Sunday morning...
The day I am finishing up this blog post.
Getting through some world news. Having some coffee. And listening to some vynil. Perfect conditions to finish this story up. It is going to be a long one, so get ready to challenge that millennial attention span!
We will touch a couple of subjects like GDPR (law), differences how photography is viewed around the world, and that your work is important.
So let's start...
I wanted to write this article for a long time. And my encounter with an incredible sour market salesman in one of the busiest places of Amsterdam sped it up a bit.
I was so happy last Friday. It was finally raining again... Oh boy I waited for that moment so long! Rain for me is the ultimate photographic aphrodisiac. I write about it sometimes in my captions. Rain makes the masks fall off from people. People wear multiple masks. Especially here in the rich west. As soon as it starts raining they disappear and start getting real.
Some get angry, some get happy, and some just don't want to get wet. For me as a photographer that is important because you can document how they are. Not how they pretend to be. That is a big difference in the story you try to tell.
I got on the train and started walking. It was not a bad day, and I think I walked around 12KM or something. My usual distance...
Unfortunately the rain was not as present as I hoped. And it took a while before I got in the flow. But after a while I started to warm up and gotten more and more shots in.
After a couple of hours I was almost done for that day. But I made small detour because there is always a market in Amsterdam on one of the squares in the city center. And market is a good opportunity to work with layers and lines.
So I walked around a bit. did some layers shots. Walked to the end. Shot some more. And looked for some interesting scenes, stood still for a bit, and decided to walk back because I was in the mood for a beer.
The moment I decided to walk back I got spoken to by a market salesman sitting on a stool. Apparently he noticed me and he made a very weird remark. And instead of letting it go, or even worse, get affected or angry, I decided to start a conversation with him.
The reason for this; a couple of weeks earlier the lady of flower shop not far from there started yelling at me because I took a photo of her shop from 20 meters away. And that is quite the distance with the focal length I am shooting with haha.
For your info. I use a Fujifilm X100F at the moment. That one has a fixed focal length of 23mm on a APS-C sensor. That means 35mm Full-Frame.
Normally nobody notices me, or they just don't care. Or they like what I do. Especially when I talk to people. I actually never had any bad experiences before. There are four I have ever had in all the time I have been photographing. Including the sour market salesman.
Once I got a message from someone who thought he could get rich of me. A junkie somewhere in the middle east tried to shoot me, but I think it would have been the same if I walked around that neighborhood without a camera. The flower lady. And the sour market salesman.
Three out of four incident happened in Amsterdam.
Let that sink in...
So before that last situation happened I started thinking about that subject matter. And what it means and let my whole monkey mind go nuts on it.
Remember my monkey mind?
Back to the conversation with the sour market guy.
Because of I was so intrigued by his remark and why he and the flower lady reacted like that I engaged the conversation.
So I stayed very polite. I explained him who I was and what I do. And asked him why he reacted the way he reacted.
The sad thing is, he could not give me a good explanation...
He just kept saying it was not allowed to take pictures. And after I told him what I do with the photographs. A brief history lesson about photography in Amsterdam and Ed van der Elsken. And actually that I am allowed, he still didn't get it.
His buddy who was sitting next to him did get it. And actually was very interested. Thank you sir. You were actually very kind...
After that he started getting mean. He told my I would fail in all of my endeavors, did some additional cursing and some other very rude remarks that were completely unnecessary. And I don't need to repeat to get my point across with this blog post. I giving the situation enough attention as it is already. Also some bystanders came to support me and tell the guy off.
The thing that stood out most from that conversation is he could could not explain himself.
Besides that. The market in that area is based upon selling artwork. So why don't you understand that photography is art?
From a commercial standpoint you are hurting your own business by making a scene in front of your shop. So why do you want to do that?
And I think most import. You are in one of the busiest sections of Amsterdam with your stand. You know that there are a lot of tourist there that just want to have a good time and take photographs. Why in the hell do you think your ego is so important that you can get mad at someone for taking a photograph?
I could go on and on... But I guess I need to start getting to my point before it becomes more of a rant instead of a informational piece.
One of the explanations I gave was that I am documenting life and when I am not traveling I document Amsterdam. His response was; photograph somewhere else.
Of course there is a lot more nuance in the whole conversation. But still...
And I did not even take his photograph. And even if I did, and he didn't like it. He could have told me in a normal civilized matter. I can totally understand that.
But unfortunately being angry and rude to people is a trend see evolving in the city. Espacially bikers yelling at tourist. Come on! You know that you are riding your bike in the city center. Most tourist have never seen so many bikes in their life. So why be angry at them? Just take the other lane one more street further where there is nothing to yell about...
But back to the core of the article!
On "How photography is looked upon in the world"
I was curious; Why!?
It is so strange that of all the places I have been the one back-home is the one with the weirdest reactions?
In Japan for example photography is a big part of the culture. Everyone likes it. Same goes for the entire South-East Asia. You will not have any trouble there. I know tv shows from Korea which are totally dedicated to photography and they follow heroes like Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey.
Northern Africa is a bit more difficult but if you use your common sense you will not have any trouble. But you can run into that sometimes people cover their faces. Same goes for the Middle-East. But that should not give any problems if you are just polite.
And of all places Iran has been the most photo friendly country I have been so far! People want to be in your frame! In Tehran I have gotten so many nice responses. Who would have thought that!
I still have to go to India. But I will be there in October so I can tell you more when I get back.
So why here...
Is it because of the paparazzi that ruined photography for us all?
Is because everyone has a cellphone with a camera on it and we see so many crappy photographs?
Is it because the west is getting less and less educated in art?
Or is it because we have became so wealthy that with all the technology and living in a "Garden of earthly delights" like society (the painting by Hieronymus Bosch ) that were are so into instant gratification and are just motivated money, lust, and ego?
I sincerely hope that someone can tell me that answer. Or maybe I will find out myself in the near future...
It is fascinating how big the difference is from country to country.
It is not all bad. And maybe it even differs from city to city.
For example: In the city of Scheveningen. Which is a small town next to the Hague. There is a huge exhibit going on about Street Photography / Social Documentary which has been shot and exhibited on the beach. And everyone likes it!
The exhibit is on the big pier BTW! It is worth it so go check it out...
The other things that I took from that conversation is the "I hope you fail...", and "You are not allowed..."
On "I hope you fail..."
Besides it is just very mean to say. I think we as photographers. Or as artists in general we have an very, and I repeat very Important job. We are story tellers. Either it is through photos, painting, music, or sculpting. It is made to move people. Make them happy when they are sad. Heal them or giving a feeling that they are understood. Or even educate people and hold a mirror in front of them. Or maybe even a critique to society...
Also! Art is a way to tell how life was during this time. How it was perceived. I see photography as the only way we have a real life time machine. The one thing that can stop time itself. Other ways do not exist. And there is no way the most important moments in life can be relived than through this medium.
So yes. To everyone that reads this that is a photographer or a artist in general...
Your work matters!
Especially now. In a time when there is more polarization than ever. More conflict among each other. From the Netherlands to the United States. More people dictating each other what they should or shouldn't do. Racism and segregation.
Sometimes for me society feels like we are repeating history and have not learned a damn thing!
So continue to inspire others with all the beautiful work you are making. And never ever do not let someone else tell you otherwise!
Not only as a artist. But as a person too...
So ergo. You matter to me...
On "You are not allowed..."
Of course you are!
*Small disclaimer: I am not a lawyer
Besides from that we have established that social documentary is an art form and not paparazzi. And ethically you are not doing anything wrong.
Laws in Europe have changed. GDPR is now in affect. But after I have done lot's and lot's of research on the matter. Nothing has changed actually...
If you are in a public place you are allowed to take photographs. And you don't need to ask for permission in doing so.
As soon as you press the shutter button you own the copyright.
But! There is always a big but...
You do have to do it from a journalistic, artistic, or educational standpoint.
Some might even think that you have to erase your photograph. But depending on the country you literally don't have too if you don't want too. That goes for European countries and Northern Parts of America. Remember that the copyright is yours.
You cannot use it for commercial purposes. That means you can not sell it to a big brands and say: here, use this one in your marketing campaign. You have to get model releases.
But you can use it as fine art. Make a print. Or a book.
Like always. There are some nuances in play. But I will link some sources (In Dutch) below. So you can read it yourself.
That of course does not mean you can walk around and being an ass and annoy people with your camera. Remember that you have an important job? That can only be done with ethics and a good heart.
My final conclussion...
This experience raised more questions than answers I am afraid. But more about how we treat each other than about art itself.
And maybe even how hypoctritical we are as a society.
And when you have gotten to this last part of this article probably means you are a photographer yourself. Or a lover for photography.
So let me explain myself with a question I get sometimes.
"Do you ask for permission?"
Well... Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. And if it is not personal work but commissioned or a assignment people know in front that they are photographed.
We look at pretty pictures and all enjoy the works of Steve McCurry, or attend a World Press Photo show, or read the National Geographic... But how do you think those photographs are made?
The decisive moment is once and it disappears in a heartbeat. And you will never get it back. Photographers or artists are the only ones who can make sure it is captured otherwise it is gone forever.
It is not easy to document life. And tell how beautiful the world is. And sometimes very sad...
Let that sink in for a moment and go on by your day...
I guess it is time that I put up another record. I have spend to much time behind the laptop already...
Arnound Engelfriet (Internet Lawyer)
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