Photography Is Not A Crime

This will be a bit of a departure from my usual style of post, but I feel the need to rant a bit. I have many photographer friends in other countries that complain about the harassment and abuse they receive for merely carrying a camera in public, mostly in the US and UK. There’s a British blog, Not A Crime, that documents this rather well and it’s spawned many others from other countries. Post 9/11 there seems to be an ever increasing animosity towards photographers, especially in the more draconian police states that believe fear is the best way to control the populace all the while preaching about truth, justice and freedom.

Here in Canada I’ve been happily free from this kind of abuse, most of the time. Today I was walking around and was confronted by two different people in the span on 10 minutes. I wasn’t even taking a picture at the time, just walking down the street with a camera around my neck. The first person, a older woman, got right up in my face asking if I’d taken her picture… what was I doing with the pictures I took… and so on. On a side note, I never take a close up portrait of someone without asking, but this is purely a courtesy, not because it’s against the law. The second was a man about my age who started getting really loud and angry yelling “did you take pictures of my kids! I’m gunna call the cops you freak”… his kids were nowhere to be seen, and I hadn’t taken a picture in a while, so I don’t know where he was coming from. Needless to say this put me in a bit of a bad mood, so I decided to write about it to get it out of my system.

I’m not sure where this connection between photographers and criminal behavior came from. Most people have the same two problems with it. Photographers are either terrorists or pedophiles… which makes absolutely zero sense. Lets look at terrorism first… if I were a terrorist, wouldn’t I use a cell phone, or some discrete little digital to take pictures…. not a huge SLR you can see from a block away. And why go take pictures of a target yourself, between google image search, flickr and google earth you can probably get pictures of anywhere on earth better than you could take yourself. Do a google image search of the MI6 building and see for yourself.

The pedophilia complaint is the one that really gets me. I did a bit of research and in the US, of all the reported cases, the odds of a child be abducted or sexually assaulted by a complete stranger is 1 in 347,000. The vast majority of abductions and sexual assaults on minors are committed by a close friend of relative of the child. Ironically these are the same people parents have absolutely no worries about taking pictures of their kids. Further, I wasn’t able to find a single case of a pedophile stalking or abducting a child because of a photo they took or found on the internet, it’s completely a fabrication of thriller movie plots and shows like CSI. And again, if I really wanted to take pictures of your kids, wouldn’t I use a little cell phone that no one seems to blink an eye at, not a large professional camera in plain view.

Street photography is about recording everyday life as an art form and as an archive of the time we live in. Without street photography, a hundred years from now all we’ll have to judge what life was like in our times is posed portraits, celebrity paparazzi pics and a billion drunken facebook party pictures. The work of people like Capa and Bresson is famous world wide and among some of the most influential photography of all time. We’re getting dangerously close to all but outlawing this type of art and it’s a scary thing.

And what really baffles me is that people are either ignorant or knowingly ignore the laws regarding photography in public. In Canada, any subject in public, building or person, is fair game to take a picture of. You can take a picture of ANYONE in public as long as there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. So for instance you can’t take someones picture through a fence, or into a building because there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy, but on the street… anything goes. The only time you need permission or a release form is if you intend to use the photo for commercial use… but that’s it. Now, as I stated, I rarely if ever take a close up picture of someones face without asking, either before or after I take the picture… and I’ve had many people ask me to send them a copy which I’m more than happy to do. You may not like the fact that that’s how the laws of this country work, but that’s not an excuse for making up your own laws. I don’t like that there’s often dog poop on the sidewalk, but I’m not going to harass every dog walker because of one dog owner failed to scoop. There are definitely times when photography is inappropriate or illegal, but please don’t treat every photographer as a criminal by default.

Anyways… sorry about the rant, but I needed to put this into writing to get it out of my system. I’ll leave you with a quote from a great man from a country that purports to be the center of freedom and justice in the world… though current events might make it seem otherwise:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
– Benjamin Franklin

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Down on the Corner: Busking the Streets of Ottawa

Ottawa has had a long tradition of great street performers, but in recent years the number of acts hitting the streets has been declining and we have Big Brother Business to blame.

Busking used to be a great way for struggling musicians and performers to make a buck and maybe get yourself noticed, but now businesses want to take a cut. City of Ottawa requires buskers to cough up $200 a year for a buskers license in order to work the Byward Market… but it doesn’t stop there, each financial district has it’s own Business Association that can levy it’s own fee for buskers… you want to work the streets in front of Parliament, that’s another license… you want to work Elgin… popped again… Bank St pull out your wallet boys and girls.

When I came to Ottawa for University in ’99 the Market was full of amazing buskers from all over the world. Acts from Europe and Australia especially loved coming to the Capital, ten years later I walk around the market and in a good week I see one fresh face I haven’t seen before. Mostly it’s the same half dozen acts that to be honest, have gotten lazy. Those that can afford the license now seem to think they own the place and don’t really have to try anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are still quite a few quality performers out there, the ones that really put on a show… engage the audience and really seem like they’re serious about it, Stunt Double Circus comes to mind. But you can tell there’s a lot of buskers that are pretty much just phoning it in now… it’s not enough to show up in dirty jeans and a t-shirt and bang out the same three songs all day if you want people to cough up their pocket change in a time where pocket change is getting harder to hang on to. And out of town acts are virtually non-existent so far this year, some struggle to just break even between room, board and travel expenses to tour different countries, being popped for a license on top of all that just doesn’t make Ottawa a financially attractive place to set up shop.

Busking has been integral to making the Market what it is today, and now business and industry is turning it’s backs on part of the reason the Market is so successful. Many great Canadian acts got their start busking, we wouldn’t have the Barenaked Ladies without it, but now it seems quality buskers might be a dying breed in this corner of the country. Be warned Ottawa, if this continues street theater will be gone from this town and it may never come back.

You can see more shots of Ottawa Street Music on my Flickr. If you see someone there, they’re worth checking out… throw them an extra buck or two. You may have seen my Stunt Double Circus pics already, but they’re definitely worth checking out in person if you get the chance.

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Reflections on Film

I’ve been having a ton of fun with the new rangefinder setup, especially with the super-wide Voigtlander 15mm lens. I’ve been shooting a lot more film recently, using digital pretty much solely for my professional work.

This image was taken with the 15mm on the Rideau Canal, right near the locks by Parliament. The film was past date Kodak Ektachrome slide film I got processed at Walmart and scanned at home. I’m getting really nice results scanning at home, and should get even better when my glass negative holders get here. They keep the film flatter for scanning, giving much better sharpness.

I’ve added quite a few shots to my Street Photography set on Flickr, and will hopefully have more coming as I slowly go through the rolls I’ve shot over the last couple months. Winter’s a slow time for me going out and shooting, Ottawa weather is usually too cold or too wet for comfortable casual photography so I’ll be using the time to go through the archives… stay tuned.

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More from the Street

Mackenzie King Bridge

I’ve been digging through the archives lately and have found a ton of shots I had completely forgotten about. This shot in particular I remember being really fond of but somehow it got buried. This was from the first roll of a camera I’ve long since traded away, a Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder.

I always regretted getting rid of the camera, but it was part of a gear swap I couldn’t turn down. I’ve recently managed to acquire another one and it’s in the mail as we speak, almost two years exactly since I parted with my last one. As much as I love my Canon gear, it can be hard to get discrete shots on the street with a giant DSLR around your neck. It’ll be nice to have something nice and small I can carry around easily again.

In other news, a few of my pictures got accepted to a juried exhibit coming up in October, stay tuned for more information. It should be a great show with about forty other artists in all different mediums.

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No Particular Place To Go…

I find I take some of my best shots when I have nothing particular in mind to shoot. When I spent the whole day wandering downtown a couple weeks ago, my goal was actually just to blow through the roll of film quickly just to test it out. I got a 100′ bulk roll of badly expired film off a photographer on one of my forums for a song, so I rolled up a few rolls and set off not really expecting anything interesting.

The film turned out much better than I expected and so did the subject matter. This shot in particular really caught my eye. I’ve become a bit obsessed with the telephone poles full of ancient staples around the city ever since my post a while ago about a shot I took of one with my Yashica-Mat. I plan on entering this shot in an upcoming art show, we’ll see if the jury likes it as much as I do.

I think I need to start scheduling time to just wander around, my keeper rate seems to be much higher than when I’m out actively in search of a particular shot.† My favorite wandering lens has always been my macro lens.† Whenever I get bored of what’s available to shoot, or I feel like I’m in a photographic slump, there’s nothing better to force myself into a completely different perspective.

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Yes, I Still Shoot Film

As long as itís available I canít see myself every giving up shooting film. Digital photography has been a godsend when it comes to events where a quick turn around and hundreds of shots are required, but film has qualities you just canít duplicate digitally. With digital I have be very carefull with exposure, and I donít have nearly as much play with it in post processing. For the most part, in decent even light, film is like horseshoes and hand grenadesÖ close is good enough. Highlights donít blow out as easy and shadow grain looks so much nicer than digital noise. It really lets me concentrate on the image instead of all the technical stuff.

AnywaysÖ this isnít a digital versus film rantÖ that horse has been flogged sufficiently. Both sides of the argument seem to have called an armistice and have grudgingly agreed that both photographic mediums have their own time and place. Film has seen a huge resurgence among younger photographers and a lot of the old guard have gone fully or partially digital.

This shot was of a telephone pole in downtown Ottawa. Thereís many that have so many staples, that over the years theyíve developed up to an inch of rusted staple and poster paper armor. This one had a nice balance of wood and metal textures. I was also surprised at how well the Rolleinar close up filters for my Yashica Mat-124G worked. Originally made for Rolleiflex cameras, theyíll fit on most TLRís with the same filter size. I was worried that another layer of glass might introduce some softness or distortion like most of the modern accessory lenses, but I canít see any degradation at all, gotta love 70 year old German glass.

One unexpected bonus I’ve found to shooting film is how I’m perceived. When I walk down the street taking pictures of random stuff with a big lens on a DSLR, some people have come up with some very imaginative and devious uses I must be using those pictures for. Walking around with an archaic box with two lenses and all kinds of knobs and fiddly bits seems to scream “artist” and people generally leave me alone or take a positive interest in what I’m doing. For more of my film captures you can check out the film section of my Flickr.

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Street Photography in the Byward Market

Busker in the Byward Market

I love working in the Byward Market. Everyday I walk around at lunch and there’s never a shortage of things to shoot. Summer is busker season and the market attracts professional street performers from all over the world. The man in the photo was from Australia, he comes to Canada most summers and busks his way across the country.

The nice thing about the Byward Market is that it’s full of tourists with cameras so no one thinks twice about someone taking their picture. Unfortunately there seems to be a stigma attached to street photography in some peoples eyes. They’ll go to galleries and admire the work of Bresson or Capa, but give a dirty look when someone takes their picture on the street. Street photographers record the mood and culture of the times in a raw and unscripted fashion… giving a true face to period of history. Reading the history books is great but it can be hard to sort out fact from propaganda and pop culture.

Luckily, living in Canada I haven’t encountered the type of harassment photographers in the UK and the US have to deal with; being accosted by security guards or police for taking pictures in subways or bus stations. It’s gotten so bad in the UK that photographers have banded together to try and bring attention to the almost police state mentality that’s sprung up concerning photography. Visit Not A Crime to see what I’m talking about. It’s getting pretty scary to be a photographer in some countries and unfortunately its historic record that will suffer the most in the end.

You can see more of my street photography on Flickr.

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Lomo Pop 9 does Downtown Ottawa

Lomo Pop 9 by Jesse Hildebrand

I picked up a Lomo Pop 9 last week and ran a roll of dollar store film through it. Like most toy cameras you can’t change the shutter speed or aperture so using different film speeds is the only way to control exposure. Lomo makes a lot of unique and quirky cameras, this one has nine lenses arranged in a square that all trip at the same time, producing a kind of Warhol-esque mosaic. Itís kind of liberating not having to worry about all the technical stuff and be able to literally just point and shoot. Itís going to take a while getting used to composing for nine tiny lenses though.

Since the Lomo/Holga movement has taken off these little cameras, that are not much more than a nickels worth of plastic, have been commanding top dollar. The Pop 9 goes for around $80 new so I jumped at grabbing this one on the cheap of Craigslist. There arenít many places that sell them off the shelf, you usually have to go the internet or ebay route to get one, but if youíre in Ottawa youíre in luck. Canteen on Dalhousie has a selection of them, theyíre not cheap, but after you add shipping, duty and customs on an ebay order you end up saving about $5-$10 and you donít have to wait two weeks. Itís a lot of fun so far, I canít wait to try running some slide film through it. You can seem more shots from the Pop 9 on my Flickr.

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Cross Processing Randomness

film, cross processed, xpro, street photography

I still shoot quite a bit of film, especially when I’m out shooting for fun instead of on the job. Cross processed slide film is one reason I don’t think I’ll ever give up film. Digital has made my job a lot easier when I need guaranteed consistent results but film still does things my DSLR will never be able to do.

Film always manages to surprise me. I used to keep detailed notes when I did my own developing or stick with the same lab when for my color film to keep my results consistent, but nowadays I’m pretty loose with my routine. Mostly because it’s so liberating. I can go out and only pay cursory attention to exposure and all the technical stuff and concentrate on composition. I have to be very careful with exposure with my digital gear; too much light and my highlights are blown, too little and you get horrible noise in the shadows. Film is so forgiving I just need to be roughly in the ballpark and I’ll get a scannable negative.

Cross processing throws another wrench in any plans for consistent results as I usually have NO idea how it’s going to turn out. Each brand of film turns out differently when processed in C41 chemicals… anything from a major shift to red or purple to bright greens and blues. I usually shoot old expired film when I cross process as well which alters the end result as well, plus you can usually pick it up on the cheap. You can usually expect reds to be boosted and everything else shifted towards green like the shot shown here… but it’s still a shot in the dark.

It’s just too much fun to go an pick up a developed roll and see what you end up with. The only down side is that because cross processing has developed a devoted cult following due to the holga/lomo movement expired film is actually going for more than the fresh stuff some places. You can see some more examples of my cross processed shots on my Flickr.

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