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Candid Can Be Creepy

Maybe half of my favorite photos are candid street photos, so I try to let my camera hang and then shoot inconspicuously. If I ask permission, I usually get a group of people lined up as though I were trying to identify which one stole my purse. Or they could say no. And I don’t like that.

Taking photos of people who don’t want to be photographed is something I try to respect. “Try” being a key word. How do you know how people feel about candids unless you ask them? It seems a little weird to walk up afterwards and say (especially if you don’t speak the language), “Check it out. I just took this photo of you in your beautiful peasant garb. You’ve got great bone structure and emanate pride and nobility even though you’re dirt poor.” Or, “Is it just me, or is it kind of cool how you’re all doing your own thing in this photo completely unaware that I’m capturing it to post in a public location. In short, I’m watching you. Is that cool?”

I’ve taken hip photos of people after they’ve said they don’t want to be photographed. Usually just because they had too much damn character not to photograph and I didn’t think they’d notice. I know it’s not my call to make but most of the time I feel like if I could genuinely convey the respect I mean in taking the photo, they’d be okay with it. Still, I know I’m justifying my behavior. There are times when I don’t ask because it’s easier, and because it’s awkward, and because I suspect they’ll say no and who will be the wiser if I just click a wee button?

Occasionally I’ll get busted. Such as here in the photo at top. I use an SLR, which means there’s a mirror-slap sound when the shutter clicks and some people notice it (Canon seems to be notoriously loud). I suspect this young woman caught me, even though it looks pretty much like the same awkwardly curious glance I get from everyone. Those blue fingernails, the mix of colors in her clothes and on her back, the ubiquitous scalp-strapped basket, can you blame me?

The composition is crap but sometimes that gives it kind of a street photography look in my opinion, instead of perfectly level and cropped, overanalyzed before it was even shot. There are surroundings and expressions that aren’t quite clear, and maybe that’s appropriate to bring it a little closer to the fuzziness of memories instead of just a clean, crisp capture that lies through its teeth to use a person or place as a metaphor that really wasn’t built to carry such absurd weight.

As something of a recovering stalker, I feel particularly bad that this woman seems to carry herself as if she almost feels threatened. But maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe it’s just because she has a significant weight on her back that is being supported solely by her brow and her compacting spine.

In any case, it’s not that rare that I get this kind of awkward photo of a woman, a dude, older folks, or pretty much anyone other than rambunctious, carefree children. And so I thought it worth a blog entry.

And despite all of the above, I like the photo for what is and isn’t in it.

Logistically, this was taken on a morning three-hour-ish walk from Namobuddha to Panauti, passing mainly across farmland and occasionally down dirt-road mainstreets of gunslinger outpost towns with a dozen buildings adhering to the dirt road and then nothing again until you make it a couple miles to the next watering hole. Only of course these watering holes carry Pringles, Coconut Crunchies, and, my personal favorite, Kurkure—a Pepsico product that is essentially a masala Cheetoh.

Mmm, Kurkure. My god  they’re yummy. Sorry, what was I saying?

There’s a balance in many places of modesty compromised by simple facts of life. In rural Nepal, women wash in a towel at a public well with regular passersby. Probably not ideal, but what’re you gonna do. When passing, I look the other way and don’t take any photos in a weak attempt at respect for privacy.

I’ve barely scratched the potential sensitivity of this topic with these not-remotely provocative photos, but everywhere in the world, there is the fine line between capturing a possibly personally-considered private incident that encapsulates an indicative moment that on an off chance might interest or engage an audience (even if it’s just one stray flickr surfer or a friend of a friend of a friend), and becoming an unpersuasive, unintentional peeping-tom pariah.

The hours I spend under a notebook–maybe with Dr. Dog and a few midget fingers of whisky–deleting and editing, are often spent conservatively trying to balance my weight on that thin line that I’m probably not even walking. I know that my photos aren’t controversially enthralling, but still, you hate to think when you’re traveling the world that when not investigating nooks and crannies, you’re either isolated or invasive and never just a momentary, curious guest with a bad memory. That your glimpses are unwanted, or that, in short, you just don’t know what the hell you’re doing out there and your absence is preferred.

So, all of that said, I think I got some good photos today and had a fantastic walk in the sun.

Photos from the morning’s hike and day’s diversion in Panauti on Flickr

Nobody cared about onlookers but I suspect that if I paused to frame this shot, it would've been weird. "Is it kosher if I photograph you all with this boy in his bucket bath?"
I mean, who wouldn't want to capture a family dispute for all eternity?
Friends, Nepalis, countrymen. Lend me your ears. I have come to bury Gyanendra, not to praise him.

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