She was crossing the street. She had short blond hair and was wearing black. She strutted like a hip, confident, young New Yorker that you might see in a magazine. She belonged here. As we passed each other in the crowd, I took a quick photo of her, part of an iconic city street scene, and published it on Instagram.
An hour later, a blogging friend sent me a message.
I know this woman. No shit. She works for me. And I showed her the photo!
My first reaction was one of extreme horror. Ever since I started posting photos on Instagram, the thought of this happening was my biggest nightmare. A stranger would find his own photo. And I would deserve the punishment that fit the crime, like a shoplifter or insider trader deserving time behind bars.
But my tale had a happy ending. The woman LIKED the photo, and we now follow each other on Instagram! Proof that either God is on my side, or that New Yorkers are so narcissistic they will take publicity any way they can get it.
Over the last two years, several of my friends have taken issue with the concept of taking photos of strangers in the street. People are always waiting for me to argue with them, waiting for me to cry, “But it is COMPLETELY LEGAL!,” and disappointed when I don’t take the bait. You see, I KNOW it is WRONG. If anything, you should applaud me for keeping on with it. In the past, my “Citizen of the Month” persona would have kicked in after the first negative comment and I would have stopped, but I’ve pushed on doing it, despite it, finding it possible to live with myself doing something morally ambiguous.
I’ve learned this from you. I’ve been blogging for almost nine years, and I have seen a lot of shit go on — blatant hypocrisy, backstabbing friends, questionable business practices, bullying of others, and snobbism. But after awhile, it all becomes part of the fabric of life. Small moral lapses are forgotten and we all focus on the real meaning of the internet — business, networking, branding, and finding success. Morality might get you into heaven, but it has little to do with business or art. From my experience, the more someone succeeds in any type of business, the more likely they were involved in compromises to their personal moral code.
In the scheme of things wrong, taking photos on the street is small potatoes. Personally, if I never did anything that pushed me into the gray area of my own personal morality, I would never leave my house, or have the nerve to type out the word “fucking” rather than “f***ing.” (see blog posts 2005-2010)
I’m pretty moralistic about most things, and I find it difficult to see myself in a negative light. (note to self: talk about this with therapist, when you find one)
About a month ago, I went to an “Instameet” downtown. An Instameet is like a “Tweet-up,” but involves those heavily into Instagram as a social media tool. I was nervous when I arrived at the agreed on location, because unlike like Blogher, where I am instantly recognized, I didn’t know anyone, or understand the hierarchy. And believe me, there is one — just like in any social gathering.
In attendance were a few “famous” New York Instagram street photographers, some who had thousands of followers and were always being asked by brands to do corporate promotional gigs. I was most excited to meet some guy known as “The King” of New York iPhone street photographers. I was curious to see him at work.
An Instameet is an odd animal. You all walk the street together, like a photo mob, taking shots, but since photography is a solo act, there wasn’t much socializing. From what I learned, that happens later, in a bar. During the walk, everyone is too busy hoping to one up the next guy.
I watched “The King” as he worked his magic with his iPhone, and suddenly — the concept of street photography made me uncomfortable. By watching him, it was like a mirror to my own actions when I shoot with my iPhone, and I wasn’t liking what I was seeing.
I’m a rather lazy street photographer. If I see something or someone interesting in my path, I might attempt a shot. But “The King” was proactive. He didn’t let Fate determine his art. He would eye someone across the street, and follow him. He would even walk around the block, circling back, just to face his subject, inches away. He seemed to enjoy the danger; but to me, it seemed like STALKING! I even hated the way “The King” viewed his subject — not like he was a humanistic individual seeking the personal in others — but as if he was a hunter searching for prey.
“What a jerk,” I thought to myself, annoyed that he was so beloved by the others. “What he’s doing is SO WRONG!”
His iPhoneography work is now showing in a gallery in Soho. Art/Morality? Does it matter?
I enjoyed taking photos of my friends at BlogHer. I wish I had more of an opportunity to do that here in New York. I wish I had a beautiful girlfriend or photogenic kids to take photos of during the weekend. But I don’t. So, I practice my photography by shooting strangers in the street. Maybe there is a bit of loneliness to it. I’d rather see it as a celebration of others. And I do it with a good heart. I try not to be a jerk. I don’t stalk people, even if it means it can get me a better shot. I try to find my own grey area.
You might think this post is about Instagram. But it’s not. I don’t need you to write comments telling me that you like my photos. Thank you if you do. This post is more about fighting the instinct to do everything RIGHT, and being OK being a little WRONG.
Perfect for right before Rosh Hashanah!
I’ll worry about my morality. You can worry about yours.
Note: This post is written for myself. And more dangerous than you think.