Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Be Respectful Of Our Clients"

Photo #1
My Father gave me some important advise: Never photography anyone who doesn't want his picture taken. It certainly made a lot of sense then, and even more so now, with everyone poised to sue everyone else on the grounds of "evasion of privacy". Then again, the subject might be "on the lamb", as they use to say, and therefore very reluctant to be photographed. In the digital age, that photo of you scratching the nether regions has the potential of being seen by anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

As a community photographer I usually work with "happy" people, since they are usually in environments of their choosing. And since this is not hard news, I can influence  the environment, as I can actually speak with my subjects and let them know exactly why the photo is being taken. Including the subject's name at publication makes it more difficult to prove the photo was made without implied consent, should the issue ever come up.

Options For Anonymity:  In past assignments, I've dealt with the privacy issue in a number of ways.

Example A
In Example A, the photo was made in a daycare facility located in the Redwood City courthouse. These children might be involved in custody disputes or restraining orders, so anonymity was very much a safety issue. By photographing down and directing the child to look at the lower edge of the computer screen, I was able to hide her face with her hair. I was very lucky to get this shot because the girl was actually the daughter of one of the teachers and she fully supported the project. Since this was to be an editorial photo, the resulting image only needed to be an accurate depiction of the facility. From the standpoint of composition, the adult teacher's gaze draws the viewer away from the child. The final shot made the ambiance of the facility the real subject.

Example B
When necessary, you can make the photo from behind, as I did in Example B. In order for the photo to work, you would need to concentrate on getting an expression that carries the story. In this case, the hosting location was adamant that no actual clients be photographed, insisting that I use one of the facility's secretaries as a stand in. To get this expression, I encouraged the two to talk until they found something of mutual interest. I was pleased with the result, and as in Example A, the expression,the direction of the gaze, and the hand gesture helped pull the image together, giving enough detail to allow the viewer to correctly interpret what is happening.

Example C
Example C uses a slightly different approach. in this case, I stepped back and used a longer focal length on my lens along with a wide aperture so that the shallow depth of field would blur the foreground subject. In this case, both subjects appeared to be looking at the document in the foreground, giving the impression of serious concentration on the task at hand.  Incidentally, I spoke with the woman, and she was very cooperative. I believe I actually used her name, but in this shot she could have easily been anonymous.

Showing Up: This assignment was at Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, at an outreach facility for homeless people. On this day, pharmacists from Walgreen's, a local drugstore, were giving free flu shots to SVdP clients. I was asked by the Journal to bring back a photo. The Society was both anxious for the publicity and mindful of the need to "be respectful of our clients", which was a nice way of saying, "No faces, please".

I arrived on time, but could only find a parking space with a 24-minute meter. I figured this was as much time as I would need, if everything went well. When I entered the vaccination room, I saw that the line of clients waiting for their shots extended outside of the back door and around the corner into the parking lot. With a pharmacists giving injections at a rate of one per minute, there would be no time for pleasantries.

Nightmare Lighting: I had already decided that using a flash would have made my presence too obvious. The available light was lousy, and there wasn't much of it. The fluorescent lighting coming from the ceiling mixed with some natural light coming from windows at camera left. These two sources, plus color contamination from the beige walls, made for an ugly mix. My one lucky break was the the window light was the dominant light source, so at least my photo wouldn't be too flat. In desperation, I did something I seldom do: I went to Auto White Balance because no matter which preset I chose, the colors would be off. Tweak 'em in post, and hope for the best. Exposure was equally laissez faire: Aperture Priority, F 2.8, ISO 1600.

Showtime: I did introduce myself to the pharmacist, Sharon, letting her know that I was photographing for the paper. I immediately smiled at the patient, stating that I was only interest in his arm and Sharon giving the shot. He smiled back, perhaps relieved that he would be anonymous in the final photo. My lens was a 24-70 2.8 set to 24mm, and even at the widest setting, I had to move as far from my subjects as the cramped quarters would allow. No time to switch lenses. I positioned myself so the the client was not easily recognized and made five quick exposures, plus on of the name tag for future reference.

Photo #2
You can see in the composite (Photo #2) that the images are very similar. I opted for the fourth because the syringe is slightly more visible. The sixth photo was a quick identification shot. All six were made in about one minute. A quick preview of the take showed that there was a "keeper", so I packed up my gear and left. The final shot, Photo #1, appears at the top of the page.

When I got to my car, there was still time on the meter. And the photo ran the day after I submitted it.

Imagine that.