To Peepul or Not to Peepul

That, is the question. Whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of irritated looks, or by lowering the camera, end them.

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In case it isn’t clear, the woman above isn’t being comical. She’s growling and grimacing in order to prevent my having a good shot of her. Thing of it is, I had zero intention of taking her picture. Instead, I was working on the exposure with a fully open lens I rarely use. She approached me, entered my shot without a word (like “Excuse me”) and proceeded to make the odd face above.

Now don’t get me wrong, she’s a pretty girl, and many men probably would love her photo. I’m not one of them. I was trying to see if I could get another interesting shot of the ugly National Christmas tree like the one below, taken in 2010. I did not.

What I did get was food for thought — a brief interlude in which I once again wondered if I should exclude people from my photos. It’s not really due to an imagined intrusion on people’s privacy. The truth is most people don’t care, and I usually don’t notice them either, except to the extent they add compositional elements or scale.


I try to keep people relatively anonymous. After all, they are markers and archetypes, not subjects. But that doesn’t always work. Their “personness” intrudes into the shots and they become the focus of my photography.


The old man wanders the World War II memorial and I briefly wonder how he remembers the war. Surely he’s not old enough to have served.  But I shake off the thoughts, as they intrude on the work. The people are shadows, wisps, ghosts.


I wasn’t rattled by the frowning bicyclist, to be honest. As I said, I’m not looking at the people when I shoot. I’m looking at the focal point, or the contrast, or the technical settings of the camera. But later, when I do see the people, just sometimes, I want to retreat back to the days when I pretended they don’t exist.


Ah, for the serenity of an empty bench.

8 thoughts on “To Peepul or Not to Peepul

  1. Bill, insightful and introspective comments. If I may extend this discussion, there is always or almost always a dilemma when to decide to photograph someone when it might infringe on their privacy. Do we stop photographing when they look us in the eye-camera? Or is that a part of reality when capturing a moment? You might enjoy viewing the National Geographic Live piece by Ed Koshi, “Eye Contact”. It is food for thought.


    1. Tim, I think that video presents the dilemma in an excellent fashion. Since I don’t sell my photos to periodicals, it’s never occurred to me to shy away from the ones wherein people are looking into the camera. In fact, my photographic heroes (Weegee, Arbus, Winogrand, etc.) seemed to revel in that energy.

      If I get glaring looks, I tend not to photograph that person, however. For the most part, I get looks of curiosity. I think some of it is the process, and some is the camera. The street shooters I emulate often used smaller cameras like Leicas. I’ve found how people react often depends on the camera. With the big Nikon, people seem to wonder what I’m about, and look at me accordingly. However, since I’m not staring at them and keep a neutral look on my face, they don’t seem to mind. With small cameras, like the Fuji, I get friendly to neutral looks.

      Still, the odd negative reaction does take me out of the (perhaps arrogant) place that says, “As long as you don’t exploit them, no one minds.” I no longer believe that’s true, exactly, but I hope that if they see the shots in 20 or 30 years they will be glad I took them.


  2. I do my best Not to Peepul as I have been met with angry reactions from peepul and my camera was not even pointed in their direction? That is effed up!
    I do agree it is the camera that insights such reactions and do notice the difference or rather how I become invisible when I use my Canon S100 instead of the 5D.


    1. Steve, one thing I’ve noticed as well for some time now is how I shoot. If I act “professional,” shooting quickly and not staring at or ogling people, they generally don’t seem to care. I think most are on the lookout for pervs with cameras. That said, I rarely shoot kids.


  3. very interesting post and comments – I am going to check on the two links from allen too –
    and you are so funny – cos the tree is rather “uglay”
    and just such an interesting topic and to hear different photographers views stretched me. As a viewer – I like when photographers give us some people – but it depends.
    Like sometimes it makes the photos feel much more personal and original – i.e. – coming back from France and giving me 40 shots of the eiffel tower is fine, but show me a few of the folks that were around the days you were exploring – and the originality index goes up – and so does the flavor of the times.

    also, I find that sometimes the people shots give us so many extras that are beyond the hands that shoot the image. For example, in your wwII memorial post – my focus did not go to the older man to the right – and I looked at that image twice before I read your note – well after I read your nice thoughts – well I loved the shot even more and wondered why my eye did not stay on him – but it shows you how we all see different (and yet similar) and even though he is a bit more in focus – in that image I kinda lumped the three vertical guys as one – soaked up the wreaths – the play on the arches of the tower and one – and then background folks – and when my eye came back front – it was the two guys Ilooke dat wondered about his “beanie” not he left –
    I share all that because I think reading your comments – the reader comments and then viewing the post – this all just reminds me of how wonderful photography is…


    1. Thanks, Yvette. I think the fun part of photography is that every shot is different, and every time you look at one, you see the scene differently. I find that without people in the shots, they become pictures of architecture or landscape. That’s fine if that’s your focus, or if you want to show how isolated things are. But people are interesting, in my opinion.

      In the WWII Memorial shot, I think you’re drawn to the 2 men on the left due to the Rule of Thirds. We naturally segment scenes into thirds, and when the photographer places an object on the line of one of those thirds (like the guy in the skull cap) the eye is really drawn there. I usually couldn’t tell you what I was looking at. They were kind of walking by and I just clicked reflexively


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