It’s All about the Body Language

WB IMG_5414

Fruit Seller – Cuenca, Ecuador

1/125s @ f/8 ISO 250 @ 105mm

Oh crap! Busted in Cuenca, Ecuador. The body language says it all: the scowl, the bunched shoulders, and the crossed arms. This lady did not want her picture taken. I get that. I always try to be considerate when I’m out shooting, and will often ask permission (and even offer a small cash token of appreciation when called upon). I’ve talked about the ethics of street photography in this blog ad nauseam (checkout the archives if you’re interested). Legally, when a person is in a public venue there can be no expectation of privacy (each of us is unknowingly photographed hundreds, if not thousands, of times every year).

I’m an ethical photographer, but beyond that I’m a polite man who’s not out to offend anyone. In this case I was on my morning walkabout, and stopped to get this quick shot of a local fruit seller. She was looking away from me. Just before I snapped the shutter she looked at me, and of course this was the result. It’s a better picture than if she’d continued to face away, more expression and attitude, but my intention was not to piss her off. I acknowledged her concern with a swift lo siento (I’m sorry), and got my gringo ass out-of-town. Ethics are largely predicted on intent (documenting versus exploiting).

A quick note to fellow photographers: Street photography entails capturing people in candid moments. Travelling the world you have to be careful, especially with indigenous Peoples. I will usually ask for permission (unless I’m quite a distance away with a telephoto lens). Assaults on photographers, and even murders, are not unheard of  (usually in out-of-the-way rural areas). I’ve photographed H’mong in Vietnam, Maya in Mexico and Guatemala, Maleku in Costa Rica, and Inca in Peru, with no real problems—but the watchword is to always be careful.

Antigua Steve WEB

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, and World Traveller

Lima, Peru

4 responses to “It’s All about the Body Language

  1. Great shot and excellent advice. I was chased away by a man wielding a heavy spool of thread moments after I took a candid photo of him at his sewing machine in his shop in Chinatown, San Francisco. I showed him that I deleted the image and gave him a dollar. Stay safe in your travels my friend so you can keep producing these beautiful photos.

    • While travelling in Chiapas, MX I visited the small Maya village of San Juan Chamula (in the highlands near San Cristobal de las Casas). Photography inside the churches is strictly forbidden, but a couple of lads from Australia attempted to grab some convert shots. They got caught. The locals beat the crap out of them, and then threw them in jail for a few days. Disrespect the local customs at your peril. As a photographer I always want to get the shot, but there are times when it’s just not appropriate (and can be dangerous and hazardous to your health).

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