On 2nd Avenue

What is Real in Photography?

To the uninitiated photography used to be real.  Before everyone was taking selfies and places they’d visited and their food and their dogs and cats – and a few were pushing the envelope,  it was becoming more apparent that photography wasn’t the reality it always claimed to be.  Photography itself never claimed to be reality, but it had the presumption of being real.

Long before digital cameras, in fact back in the day of glass plates, there were already fraudulent attempts at showing ghosts and fairies appearing in photographs.  Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was duped, badly, by two teenage girls who faked fairies appearing in trees and shrubbery.  They kept their secret for several decades.

He lived in a time when Spiritualism was a big thing.  What you thought might be out there could be captured by the science of photography.

But, even when you aren’t trying to dupe someone with fake ghosts, and just trying to take a more documentary shot, you are always the one deciding what the picture is about by deciding what should be in the picture.

And then there are the partly posed shots.  They don’t bother me very much.  Asking the American  girl to  walk past the male spectators again.  The reactions are real.  The setup is just that a setup, but of something that the photographer saw happen.

This shot is along those lines.  There was a festival on 2nd Avenue and there were actresses out trying to drum up business.  This combo passed me but nobody seemed to notice.  I approached the pink coif and strict nun and asked them if they’d do be a favor and walk past me a few times.  Without looking at me, or posing, or anything, just be yourself.

Eventually, even the baby in the carriage seemed surprised.  A woman almost chocked on her pizza.  And the shot was satisfying.  Street photographers (many of them) will write that this isn’t part of the street photography code of ethics.  Others won’t care a whit.

My only excuse is that I had a film (cinema) background where you’re always telling people what to do.  That’s the way movies are made.  Now you walk in from this side and just about here you remember…

In fact, the most real things in the image is the reaction of the passersby.


Published by dave

I've been photographing New York, mostly in black and white, for the last 35 years. In other words, I began in the age of Tri-x and D-76 and eventually moved into the world of pigment ink. Enjoy your stay - Dave

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