Making Connections In Street Photography

Even if you're mainly a candid shooter like me, it's great to connect with people along the way.

In the image above, I was focusing on this gentleman's homemade hat when he began to lecture my friend Rob about god rituals in the morning. The lecture wasn't as stern as it looked - the man was extremely amicable. I had approached him earlier to take his picture because he made eye contact with me and smiled. We chatted and I took several pictures of him during our brief visit. The above story has played out in various ways over the years in my photographing life in Mumbai and throughout India. Although it may be more comfortable for some of us to avoid socializing while exploring new places, I always make it a point to chitchat whenever I can, especially when it's on my own turf - which I consider the entire city of Mumbai to be.

This post, I reckon, is a half-assed How-To. But it'a little more than that, and a little bit less! It's more like friendly, practical advice: respect those whom you encounter on the streets and be friendly with them, no matter how bad of a day you may be having. Doors tend to open. And believe it or not, your mood may change by chatting with one friendly stranger.

If anything, I've had to try to become less involved in my social interactions with people over the years shooting in Mumbai. And this is of no fault of my own or of the city's. The people here are just so warm and welcoming on the whole, that it's too easy for a foreigner like myself to get caught up in long conversations on a daily basis.

Only last night I was in the heart of Dharavi, Mumbai's famous slum, photographing some of the going-ons at an outdoor movie set. I was soon surrounded by kids and teenage boys, who were curious about what I was doing there and why I was photographing. I chatted with them for roughly ten minutes before I had to move on and shoot some of the main stage. My point is, making connections, however "small" and perhaps conceivably "meaningless", is a huge reward for those who love to shoot street photography. It easily negates a lot of the negativity, however infrequent, one may experience with such a genre.

Back to the advice: make chitchat with some of your subjects, or even those whom you're not shooting. Say good morning, or whatever good time of the day it may be. If someone looks you in the eye, recognize the gesture by nodding or by saying hello. I can't tell you how many times conversations have begun in such a way and then lead to me learning something new about the city and its people.

If you're a street photographer, you're a diplomat. A diplomat for whom, is your question to answer. I look at it this way. First and foremost, I respect people in general. I'm a diplomat for myself, in all my good and bad traits. Secondly, I'm a diplomat for those who love street photography. I don't want someone to have a negative reaction to an activity because I behaved in a poor manner with someone. These kind of things tend to have a ripple effect. And the kind of ripple effects we should be sending off into the world should be those of welcome.

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