As London Street Photographer Michael Boyd puts it: "Why should you trust this guy for advice on how to avoid getting beaten up? Well, that's because I got really badly beaten up." Check out how he used a horrible encounter to revamp his shooting style and offer advice to others.
About six months ago, Boyd was walking around Glasgow at night with his Instax Wide 300, when he approached a group of men in the middle of the street and took a close shot, using the flash (which I can attest is a rather powerful bugger, having used one of these cameras myself). The men, unamused by the perceived invasion of space and privacy, proceeded to take Boyd's camera and physically assault him, the onslaught only stopping when Boyd's friends stepped in, some of whom too were assaulted. As Boyd puts it:
This is most photographers' worst fear, because it really knocks your confidence for a while. It took me six months to get over it.
I had the opportunity to speak with Boyd, who was gracious enough to share more of his experience. He recognizes a distinction between the legality of street photography and the manner in which one goes about it, noting that it's of course legal in most countries, but he realized after this encounter that the way in which he was going about it was neither beneficial for his photography or his safety.
This led to the realization that interaction with his subjects was the key to fixing both these issues, leading Boyd to vow to never "hide behind the camera" again. In his video, he discusses the techniques he's developed, all of which are simple and effective for completely reframing a situation with a stranger: smiling, starting a conversation, and having a business card to legitimize one as a photographer. He notes that most people are quite easily flattered and that a compliment can go a long way in changing a person's perceptions of a photographer's intentions.
Of course, I was interested to know if Boyd has had any altercations since, which he has, but armed his new techniques:
They've all been defused relatively easily with a bit of interaction.
From a technical standpoint, Boyd no longer uses flash because of its obtrusiveness. He also has not replaced the Instax, noting he prefers traditional film more. I too prefer traditional film (is there anything better than a good roll of Tri-X?), but I also carry an Instax 90 much of the time, as I've found people absolutely adore receiving a surprise old-school instant print. I've found it also makes the photographer more memorable. For Boyd, though, the big revelation was human interaction:
I really feel like a social documentary photographer's ability to make great images is closely linked with their people skills. After learning the hard way, I've actually started enjoying photography more by learning to talk to people. Worrying about cameras less and paying much more attention to the subject and composition is more rewarding for me. I'd recommend people try out talking to their subjects more and see where it takes them. If anything, it'll reduce the odds of getting a busted nose like me.
Have you had altercations as a street photographer? How did you handle them? Let us know in the comments!
All images by Michael Boyd and used with permission.