Probing the subjects

martie 3, 2015

Today I felt like taking pictures and when I say that, I mean I felt like I have the balls to stop in the middle of the road, point the camera at the faces close to me and shoot. Some kind of urge of reckless behavior that doesn’t visit me too often .

Tuesdays are busy days in our little town. It’s market day and people of all calibers fill up quietly the quiet stage. The winter shook its coats once again today, entering the postlude of a capricious winter. So no mood for roaming unfettered between stands.

As I walked towards the market I got the camera out from my bag and I was ready for action. In the distance I saw something which could be of interest so I devised my plan. A few seconds later I posted myself close to a bus stop full of people, I pointed the camera and I took a shot. No reaction. I arranged the zoom for a wider angle and  I took another picture. It felt good. The whole action lasted less than five seconds and I was on my way again.


With swell confidence I proceeded to the market place and I took a few random pictures on the way, just to warm up.






netcurtains-maintaining-the-privacyMaintaining the privacy


I got to a stand with nicely stacked bread and I took a shot of it with the two guys selling it in the background. One of them objected and asked me to delete the picture. I refused. He got annoyed and came next to me and from what I understood he threatened(?) to call the police because I am not allowed to take pictures of anyone’s face without permission. Fair point. (Or is it!?) I invited him, in my broken polish (sorry about my English too) to call the police which should be able to tell me whether I am allowed or not to take pictures of people in a public place such as the local market. I continued my stroll around the market waiting for the police to arrive when I see The Baker and a market security man walking toward me. We got into a conversation but couldn’t establish whether I am entitled to keep or not the picture containing The Baker’s face. (The picture had not yet been used in any way!)

While they were discussing I changed my mind. The picture didn’t have much value anyway and, to settle the argument, I decided to delete the picture. Why? Police would not arrest me for this. In worst case they’d ask me to show my identification which I did not carry with me, not when going to buy potatoes. I still want to go to this market without any grudge against me. So I showed the guy I deleted his picture and tried to explain how I see it. Business is public, your product is public, the street is a public place. The market couldn’t be more public. Your thoughts and actions may not be public but your face, is. Otherwise,  zostać w domu!


A few other men stopped. They were not carry shopping bags. Puzzled looks. I assume they were trying to understand what was going on. Stern faces – perhaps sellers from other stands in the market were not entirely accepting my arguments, all the same curious about the verdict. Can their faces along with their products be photographed by.. Nobody? Another younger merchant seeing that I offered to delete the baker’s picture he asked me to also delete the picture of his lorry packed with  bags of carrots and potatoes. Why did I took that picture? To probe the subjects of my little town. His face was not in the picture. I deleted it anyway.

I still wanted to find out whether I am or not allowed to take pictures of the market and the people in it so the security guy took me (invited me? obliged me? Hard to tell.) to their office to talk to his superior. We are in Poland. Writing these words two hours later, my moving from the market to the security office does not seem so voluntary anymore and I don’t know why. And this post seems more like a declaration. Nevertheless it helps me remember the details of the event.

The superior explained, as I was kind of expecting it, that I can take pictures as long as the faces of people are not in them. Fine.

What really bothers me now is that they asked me to show what other pictures I took and if I have any identification with me. I do not remember whether out of a genuine desire to add to my personal photographic collection I offered them to show what I have in my camera or they asked me to do that. The fact that I do not speak very well their language makes it difficult to recall this important aspect. And, even more annoyingly important, are they entitled to ask me to give them my name and address? With nothing to hide of course I gave it. But, do security men have the authority to ask for identification? I know they have been put there to solve conflict in the market and protect commerce but shouldn’t my identity, on this instance be treated as private since The Baker got his picture deleted from my camera and didn’t press charges? I mean, how short is the road from taking street pictures to being questioned for it?


With five polish apples in my bag, I took one more picture of a national polish costume and I left the market. Today I gave some people something to talk about. Shame it’s only a few.

I’m sitting at my desk looking outside… For a few minutes large snowflakes frolicked in the air… Should I expect a visit?

On my way home other stories awaited to be packed in a few millions pixels. A film camera might have got me in trouble. And, when I was convinced there’s nothing left for me in this little town to take pictures of, a whole new world opens up.






I was considering myself a photographer or rather and observer of life. Today I learned that life photography ain’t only about split moments, lines, shapes and shadows. Perhaps a degree in journalistics would have instructed me to respect the faces on the street and ask for permission before shooting. Would I really want that? The lesson here is: discretion. But I’m not sure I always want that either.


Update 04.03.2015: On the same car park where the Tuesday market takes place  I was surprised to see on a Saturday morning two or three weeks ago this small group of not sure what to call them… pseudo-soldiers?


Update 23.03.2015: The answer came later keeping an eye on the news: