I guess it’s a world-wide phenomenon, as I read many similar complaints on photographic websites and bulletin boards.
As a result of paranoia, imagined terrorist threats and a just plain and simple, hard-assed attitude, practising street photography is becoming increasingly difficult and in many cases, impossible.
In most South African cities there is effectively no street life -- it has all moved inside privately-owned shopping malls and that is where the problem arises.
Last week while wandering around the Sandton City shopping mall, I stopped to take a shot of lunchtime office workers sitting in the food plaza watching a soccer match on a giant screen.
It was a simple picture showing a slice of South African life that may be interesting to look back on in a couple of years.
Within moments of raising the camera and firing off the shot two security guards descended upon me.
“Where’s your permission?” they demanded. “You can’t take pictures here. It’s private property.”
They huffed and puffed, threatened to call the manager and generally displayed the attitude exhibited by lower-end life forms when they have some authority.
Naturally I ignored them and left.
A few days later I went to the Rosebank Mall, not too far from Sandton City. I had with me my Kodak Retina and stopped to photograph a mime in an open square through which dozens of people were passing.
You guessed it! Within a minute I was accosted by a security guard who called the manager, who arrived so quickly I am sure he was convinced he’d caught an international mime-spy!
Same story, same demands while, at the same time, two other passersby continued to snap away with their cellphone cameras.
I fail to see the logic of the policies of the centre-owners. The fact is, I was not trying to sneak in and photograph something hidden away, beyond the eyes of the public. All was in full view, openly displayed and intended to be seen.
The manager muttered something about “combating industrial espionage” before I left.
I shot the images on film and I have not yet had them developed. I doubt they will be anything more than a mildly interesting record of a moment in time. But the incidents got me thinking, is it worth the hassles?
Probably not. For me, photography is not a contact sport and, as a former press photographer, I paid my dues as, on many occasions, I was harassed by jack-booted authorities.
I’m too old to put up with that kind of crap now.
So it was with that in mind that I decided, for the time being, to follow a different route in photography. My plan now is to find and photograph beauty surrounding us that we do not always see.
Searching for beauty
I am fortunate to live on a small farm and at this time of year some very attractive wild-flowers bloom in the veld. They are not something I have ever photographed before, in truth, I have always walked past and hardly glanced at them.
But, for the past few evenings, about an hour before sunset, I have spent some very pleasant times searching for splashes of colour in otherwise dreary surroundings.
Some of the images I captured were shot on Fuji 400 colour negative film, the others were taken with a Nikon D40 but in all cases, either a prime 50mm f2 or a 105mm f2.5 Nikkor lens was used. This allowed me to shoot wide open (in some cases I used a 2x neutral density filter) and end up with wonderful, creamy bokeh.
In truth, I prefer the shots taken on film. Though more grainy, I think they have a painterly quality about them that is absent in the digital images.
(Image 1: digital, Image 2 & 3: film, Image 4: digital, Image 5: film, Image 6: digital)
For once, it was nice not to look over my shoulder for a baton-carrying goon!