For one of my journalism subjects last semester, I was asked to go around campus (Wollongong) and take a photo of things that stood out for me, things that constructed my mind about ‘uni life’.
Uni life to me, consists of bean bags, food, uni bar, angry ducks, printer queues, stairs, coffee, lots of coffee and bare feet (yes, I am a creative arts student). So how was I going to capture all of that in one shot? As I walked around the pond I came face to face with the perfect scenery. On my left I had a girl sitting on the grass, mid bite through an apple, with bare feet! In front of me, a girl laying on the grass sun baking with TWO cups of coffee, I had three ducks goosing around, and just in time for my shot I turned around to perfect the angle and boom, there was uni bar in the background, I felt this might be a heaven sign for a career change into photography.
The photo was edited – because even Johnny Depp looks better with a filter – and uploaded on to my very public blog. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I found myself on the grass, mid bite through my chocolate cake and bare feet, watching other students with cameras capturing their ‘uni life’ moment that I realized that maybe I didn’t want my photo taken and uploaded into someone else’s blog, facebook or anywhere for that matter. I might have been picture perfect for them but I had messy hair, no make up, chocolate on my white shirt and my toe nails were half painted (it was a Monday). This made me feel so uncomfortable about having taken the photo those previous weeks, how did I not consider asking for consent?
Sure its art, but do we have the right to make people uncomfortable for art? I started thinking about the fine line we might cross as artists, as ethnographers, as everyday people. Does being in a public sphere automatically decrease our right to privacy?
We gain, or in most cases lessen, the level of ownership over ourselves when entering places. We are constantly being filmed or watched to insure we behave accordantly. While choosing to do basic things such as shopping, we are entering an invisible agreement where we allow all types of personal information to be displayed. What time I entered a premises, what I bought, what I wore, how I paid. These are everyday things that we are perhaps unaware of, and sure enough they don’t bother most people. I don’t remember the last time I felt that my privacy had been breached in a shopping centre, if anything made me feel saver knowing someone, somewhere is watching me.
But what about a park? An university campus? Would I be more cautious of my actions if I thought someone was watching me? For whatever reason? Would my actions change?
I am the first one to put my hand up and argue that art cannot be forced. Asking someone to pose does not always deliver the same depth of a spontaneous picture. Perhaps being exposed to a controlled world gives us the false sense that we too are in titled to exposure.
By no way or mean do I write this post as a discouragement to other artists to stop exploring the hidden beauty that we humans are. I understand the act of asking for consent is not always ideal, but perhaps, engage with the person you are admiring and put yourself in their shoes. We as artist are sure to find another creative way of resembling the same picture without breaching any privacy.
What I’ve learnt this week, is how to open my mind and minimize the risk of singling a person out. Focusing on other details such as hands, movements, distances will make it easier for us to use it later in a public space, after all anyone makes a beautiful story.