I do not look for confrontation. Actually, I go out of my way to avoid it, but there are times when getting involved just needs to happen.
When people ask me about shooting on the street I am often asked if I get into any fights. I have been flipped off and yelled at, but nobody has actually gotten in my face. This past weekend it happened.
On Saturday I was in New York City to view an exhibition by LaToya Ruby Frazier from Braddock, PA who had documented the city’s decline (I am documenting, hopefully, its recovery). The show was in Brooklyn and I did some photographing there before returning to Manhattan to do the same. I saw eight black men standing on a corner, one filming, one holding a sign, and another preaching. This was of interest to me so I took a picture and moved closer to look at the sign.
The sign had a traditional picture of Jesus at the top, but they had added horns to his head and text that read “This is the Devil!” Below that was the text “Jesus is a negro not a whiteman” Okay.
I walked to the other side of the group and started photographing. A conversation ensued.
“Hey, stop taking pictures.”
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“I said stop taking pictures!”
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(The gentleman in the green had been addressing me, but the one in the purple walked up and stood a few inches in front of me.)
“Are you deaf? Stop taking pictures!”
“I don’t want to stop taking pictures.”
“You’re not allowed to take pictures here.”
“I most certainly am allowed to take pictures here.”
“Well go across the street and take pictures.”
“I choose to take pictures here.”
“If you want to take pictures then take a picture of a cop.”
“I may do that, but right now I am taking pictures of you.”
He was apparently not accustomed to someone refusing to be intimidated and pushing back, as by this time he had nothing to say, so I continued.
“You are completely free to stand on this corner and preach; I am completely free to stand here and photograph you.”
By this time there was a small peanut gallery behind me and the guy in back of me started yelling, “Yeah, you can’t be telling him to stop taking pictures. Just who the hell do you think you are?”
The man in purple turned around and returned to the group while I took another handful of pictures. In this country one has the right to stand on a corner and offer their opinion to anyone willing to listen. However, photographers have rights also, and it is not a bad idea for them to carry “The Photographer’s Right” with them in case this subject becomes a question.
The gentleman with whom I spoke did not know me and if he had then things would have been quite different. The pictures I took of the group were uninteresting (with the exception of the fact that I realized later that the one telling me that I was not allowed to take pictures was in the process of helping another of the group take pictures) and would have gone nowhere, but the best way to ensure that I take a picture is to tell me not to take the picture.
I looked around for any other mention of these people and came across “This Image Is Not Biblical”: Extreme street preaching at zomblog four years ago in Berkeley.