Not too long ago—when I first started my photography journey in 2012—I needed to decide what areas of photography I’ll enjoy exploring the most. Is it landscaping? Is it portraits? Or maybe architecture? After experimenting with various photography fields, my search led me to street photography, and people (not necessary portraits, but more like taking photos of people at their natural environment).
For an introvert person such as myself, doing street photography can be quite challenging. Unlike other photographers who ask permission to take photos of random people on the street, I find myself paralysed by the thought of asking strangers to take their photo. Two main reasons: 1) I’m quite shy and I don’t like to talk to people that I don’t know that easily (hence an Introvert), and 2) I find that doing so makes the subject conscious about the camera, which takes away the “story” of the photo.
During a business trip to Berlin last month, I found some time to explore the city in search for a “subject” that can summarise the vibes I felt in this multicultural German town. I walked for miles across different streets and neighbourhoods to try to capture the ‘magic’ of this city. To me Berlin represents freedom and some sort of cultural euphoria, and I wanted to capture these exact feelings in my lens. As I was walking down Friedrichstrasse, I came across a photographer who was taking photos of a model in the middle of the road. It was such a surreal moment, and I knew that I found my photo. To me the model represented Berlin, and the photographer represented freedom. It was a moment where you simply grab your camera and click what you see. One shot. One photo.
It was a perfect introvert-moment. Nobody knew I was there, and I could simply capture the moment the way I saw it with no interruptions. Little did I know that my worst nightmare as a photographer has just began.
After I took the photo, I kept walking on the street when suddenly I heard someone “talking on the phone” in German a few steps behind me. I ignored it for a while until I actually started to suspect that the person is actually talking to me. I turned my head to the right and to my surprise, the person was not only talking to me, but he was also holding his phone up and taking a video of me!
A bit confused, I smiled and kept walking, hoping for the person to vanish. He did not. In fact, he stepped in front of me—while still videoing the whole thing— and started raising his voice (still in German) and acting aggressively toward me with his body language. I was alarmed, and my surviving-animalistic-instincts were on the highest level. I didn’t understand a word that this bully was saying, which made the scenario even more confusing. I tried to cross the street, but he kept following me. I acted calmed and politely asked him to simply leave me alone; he did not. A group of tourists showed up, and I simply mingled with them until he cursed me and left the area. I kept walking calmly for another mile until I stopped. My heart was beating fast from the rush of adrenaline (I thought I was about to get into a fight), and I was very confused because I tried to understand what in god’s name just happened.
Later in the day it all “made sense” to me. This bully thought I was sneaking up on people to take photos, and he wanted to “teach me” a lesson by taking a video of me and adding to it some aggressiveness. As an introvert, there is nothing worse than someone confronting you this way to ruin your day. I didn’t take a single photo after this incident, and I simply turned around and walked back to the hotel. My photography zen moment was gone.
As a certified Krav Maga martial art fighter, I could have easily taken this person down and break every possible bone in his body, but since I don’t like conflicts I simply chose to walk away, very disturbed from the entire incident. This led me to think about the dark side of street photography: confronting people (bullies) who simply don’t understand that what we photographers do is art. We are not taking a photo of you, rather, we are capturing a moment in time. This moment can be the vibes of a city, an emotion, a state of being, or anything else we find inspiring. We are storytellers, and we use visual to express our words.
I’m hoping this will be the last time I come across this type of an undesirable scenario, but something tells me it won’t.