How to Overcome Guilt in Street Photography

One interesting thing I’ve noticed in a lot of street photographers which debilitates them from shooting street photography: the feeling of guilt of photographing a stranger without their permission, the feeling of guilt that they are “bothering” or “upsetting” their subjects, and the feeling of guilt that what they’re doing is inherently wrong or “evil”.

What is guilt?

To start, let us analyze guilt. What is guilt, where does it come from, and how does it manifest in our lives and in street photography?

Guilt: a painful psychological spur that embeds itself into our mind; a self-inflicted punishment that we have done something “evil” and “wrong”.

Now, I think that guilt is something that is more socialized than something that is biologically embedded into ourselves from birth.

For example, in different societies and cultures, notions of “good” and “evil” are different. By doing something “evil” in a certain culture, you’re trained (by your parents and society) to feel bad, or to feel guilt.

For example, Asian Confucian cultures have trained you to feel guilt for disobeying your parents. But in the rebellious and individualistic culture of America, to disobey your parents seems to be the norm, and not that big of a deal — almost to be expected.

Ethics are socialized

Anyways, this notion of photographing people without their permission to be a “bad”, “rude”, or “evil” thing is totally socialized. In some cultures in the world (Southeast Asia, India) people don’t really care being photographed. In fact, your problem is having people not pose for you in the photos.

In the Western world (America, Europe, Australia, etc) there seems to be more paranoia about being photographed. There is a fear of pedophiles, fear of privacy, etc. But these are all socialized modern concepts. The camera hasn’t existed as an instrument for very long — and it seems that we are still quite unsure how to feel being photographed.

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