11/29/2006:

A Boy in a Bus on Wythe Street


I have a policy about not shooting the Orthodoxim who live in South Williamsburg. It's always seemed really exploitive to enter their neighborhood, and without permission or personal connection, ambush people walking on the streets. Sometimes I regret not taking a picture-- a couple of months back I watched a Hasidic dwarf hobble across Kent, and the image was so striking and pathetic and full of pathos that not taking the picture made me feel physically ill. My camera was in my hand, and I could have snapped away-- but it felt wrong and evil and I didn't do it. Yesterday I was shooting a deli on Wythe and a schul bus pulled right into the frame and stopped. This kid was right there, in the center of the frame, and he spent a few seconds making faces at me. That kind of providence can't be overlooked-- I took it as a sign from the photography gods that this time a shot was permissible, and I caught a couple of frames.

Update-- a commenter writes:

Hey Jake. I'm a fan of your photography. I liked the picture of the little Chasid in the bus. I'm puzzled, however. You state you have rules about taking pictures of the Chasids, that you feel it is an invasion of their space. But you seem to have no such rule about snapping the pictures of (mostly) Black, Hispanic, and Asian people walking or standing on the street. I'm sure you don't mean this as some sort of racial slight.

You don't owe me any explanations, but if I noticed it, others may as well. No sense confusing your viewers and causing yourself any unintended grief.

I do owe you an explanation, and this is it: I don't feel the same reservations about shooting Blacks, Asians, or Hispanics for two reasons. First, these groups don't live in cloistered shtetls, removed from the rest of the city. For that reason, they don't ask for or expect the same standard of privacy. Second, growing up in Brooklyn, I was surrounded by people from these backgrounds, and consequently, I feel connected to them-- shooting them feels less like exploitation, and more like narration-- telling a story about where I'm from. For both reasons, I think it's a different situation, and I'm okay with that.