London street view

Above: A street photograph taken around late-2001. Credit: Henry Bond.

Action on Street Photography

Flaneuring or flaneurie--wandering around through a city stopping to gaze with amusement or fascination at whatever draws one's interest--is the basic concept or modus operandi behind the photographic art of the street photographer. Unfortunately, since about late-2001 the street-photographer-as-flaneur has been reframed. For at least 150 years, such a photographer was a largely ignorable feature of the urban environment. Then, since late-2001 the same photographer who pulls out a camera photographing strange things, was suddenly presumed to be a security threat and a malevolent figure (SOED: desirous of evil to others; feeling that arises from, or is indicative of ill will; disposed or addicted to ill will).

The odd person taking a photo of those bins over there (or whatever else it might be), capturing a photo of anything at all that is not obviously picturesque, is now deemed to be carrying on suspiciously. The photographer may be photographing a place with a view to bombing it at a later date! On the Tube, Underground train users are encouraged to report any such person under the TfL rubric "See it. Say it. Sorted."

International Terrorism has had all sorts of effects and this is just one more. The new logic is as follows: "Ordinary good people do not go around randomly photographing weird corners of buildings or snapping members of the public on street corners ... only someone who is planning an outrage would do something like that." At some point (that point has already been reached IMO) it will become necessary to push back against the fear-mongers and attempt to reclaim some of the freedom to roam-and-snap that was never in question from 1840 through late-2001. From the point-of-view of the photo-flaneur, security consciousness has gone too far: the reactionary pendulum has swung to such an extreme that street photography is no longer really possible, and this is a loss to culture and art.

(4 August 2018)