Friday, August 22, 2008

City of People: Street Photographers and The Freedom of Expression


Text and pictures by © Eki Qushay Akhwan

Just a reflection on ourselves. We, photographers or photography enthusiasts, not all probably, but undoubtedly many of us, are infinitely proud of our gadgets as you can see in these photos.

"Hey, what camera do you use?"
"How big is your thing?"
"Look what I got ...!"
"Hmmm ... that photo I took was a bit disappointing ..."

I don't think I'm one of those photography enthusiasts who are too fascinated with gadgets (I could have, but not anymore). I do have a number of cameras and quite a few lenses. But they were from the old days when I was still very much fascinated with gadgets. Now I just take pictures and don't really care very much about what camera I use. Most of the time I take photos with my 3.2 megapixel point and shoot camera, a Canon Powershot A510, which I always have with me because it's light and easy to carry and inconspicuous in public places. Only occasionaly do I bring my DSLR camera, a NIKON D70, which I bought in 2005, usually when I really intend to hunt for photos.

As you have probably seen from my street photographs, Bandung is probably and quite arguably one of a few great places to do street photography. I've been to (and lived in) quite a number of cities in the world. Nowhere did I feel so much at ease about taking photographs in public places than Bandung. This could be a subjective feeling, I know. I've lived here most of my life, even though I was not born here. But then, there could be a number of other factors that make street photography so much more easier to do in Bandung. People here are very friendly and are not usually shy with stangers. The streets, chaotic though they may look at times, are very alive and bustling with a lot of things: vendors, jay walkers, shoppers, ...

We may not be as afluent as people who live in more developed countries, but I sense the people are genuinely much happier here, freer too.

I once had a bad experience taking pictures in the United States (I studied there for two years). One sunny, summer afternoon, I was taking pictures on the street. Minding people's privacy, which I knew was highly valued by Americans, I only took photos of buildings and architecture. Just when I was busy doing it, a police car stopped right in front of me, and the officers began to interrogate me. Apparently, a good citizen, seeing a stranger-looking guy taking pictures of buildings, had called the police. He/she might have thought that I was a terrorist planning a terror attact of some sort with my photography. Only with difficulty, and after a few phone calls to my university's international students' office, did I convince the officers that I was a legal resident and that I was not a bad guy. Still, I think, they keep a record of my identity.

It feels good to be free in a free country.


Virginia said...

Your street photography is inspiring me to do more. Thanks for your great tips. THese four are priceless. Yes, you are right about photographer harassment these days. IT's really sad. Sorry for your bad experience.

Layrayski said...

I love taking photos of photographers too! I enjoyed your post.

I don't know what to say about your experience... scary? confusing? Gee...

Anonymous said...

It is very sad that people are so leery of everything now days.. It does make street photography harder here in the US..Great photos today!! I enjoy the body language and expressions of the people!

Snapper said...

I totally agree with you. I too have gone through the gadget phase and now realize that it's not about the tool used, it's about the emotional impact of the image.

I'm sorry you had that experience with the cops but it doesn't surprise me. Erosion of basic freedoms after 9/11 was one of the reasons my wife and I left the US.

Chuckeroon said...

Oh, Eki! Your English is too good ;-)! Your brain is too sharp!

As to posting today...."Quite so. Quite so".

Laurie said...

Eki, your street photography is so wonderful. It's true -- the US is becoming more and more wary of photographers and many people are getting hassled for taking pictures.

Rambling Woods said...

I am so sorry that you had a problem here Eki..I was thinking that people here would not appreciate someone like me taking their photos either. It wasn't always like this..but it is now and things will never be the same as when I was much younger...

pyo said...

great picture! I love to see those people with cameras. I love to see them taking pictures. I want to be one of them, really! well, your picture inspires me to take more interesting pictures only with my cellphone camera... ;p

Blognote said...

I like your street-photography. One notices the relaxing atmosphere, especially with the photos of the photograp-enthusiasts.
I agree with you: I used to have a beautiful Canon with all the necessary lenses, but since it was stolen (unfortunately during a trip in the U.S.), I always carry a simple, flat and light Casio 7,2 mega pixles, with me, which I can so easily slide in and out of my inside pocket at any moment, instantly capturing the immages I am inspired by. Sorry about your bad experience.

Anonymous said...

This morning, I woke up early, and took a virtual trip to Bangdung! Your photos are great, and your postings show your intelligience, and wisdom. I've been browsing through, and enjoyed all of the photos, but especially liked the mostly black and white shot with the colorful umbrella.

Then as, I read your post about being interrogated for taking photos of buildings in the United States, out of respect to the privacy of people, in not posting their photos on the internet.... it brought up this thought in me.

I was blown away to learn that American's are not well liked by some of the other countries in the world. I had a hard time understanding why that was. It was only after 9-11 that my eyes were opened to that knowledge. I've always had the thought that we are a freedom loving, and free living society here in the United States. I had no idea that we were not appreciated (in general) as kind, caring, human beings.

I don't like stereo typing, but after 9-11, it makes sense that security rules and measures were put into place, to stop take notice of, and question those who are taking photos of buildings that could fall victim to an attack.

I'm sorry to hear it happened to you, but glad to know security is watching out for those who use their cameras as devices to study structure of buildings, in order to bring them down (with innocent people inside them).

And, were it not for 9-11, this security watch would probably not of came to be.

Thank you for sharing your lovely photos, and great posts that go with them.

It's so nice to sit in the comfort of my own home, and visit countries so far away. Much cheaper, too!