This is a local group…there’s nothing for you here!
Over the years we’ve taken thousands of pictures, several hundred of these have been posted on social media. Facebook groups in particular have been useful in getting the photographs seen by a wider audience. In the vast majority of cases these groups have been friendly and supportive. We’ve made lots of friends through these groups.
One category of Facebook group, however, seems to be less than welcoming to the street and documentary photos. These are the ‘local’ groups. Groups targeted at a particular area. They have names like ‘Beautiful so and so’, ‘Strictly so and so’. These groups call themselves photography groups but seem very resistant to photographs that don’t conform to some idealised impression they have of the area. Photos of flowers, picturesque cottages, birds and kittens are welcomed; a street photo of someone in front of a run-down betting shop not so much.
These groups seem to have many ‘experts’ in their midst; not just photography experts but experts in law, sociology and ethics. Once or twice some of these ‘experts’ deem the membership worthy to be graced by one of their own photos. Usually this is a flower, cottage, bird or kitten.
Recently Bridget posted this picture to a group called ‘Beautiful Yorkshire’. Many people liked it but of course, the ‘experts’ weren’t so keen. The self-appointed moral and legal guardians decided that it wasn’t appropriate. The group and Bridget would be left open to prosecution, parents would be appalled if this had been their kids, privacy was being violated and several other over the top clichés. The fact that the kids were unidentifiable seems beside the point. Pointing out that it would be perfectly legal even if they had been facing the camera would have been futile.
Of course once the ball gets rolling the morality brigade widen their fire. Soon it was my turn.
Both these pictures had been posted on several groups on Facebook, on Instagram etc. Only people in the ‘area-specific’ groups seem to have had a problem.
In fairness to ‘Beautiful Yorkshire’ the admins (except Helen) have been very supportive and have forcefully stated that the photos are both allowed and welcome on the group. There has also been a lot of posts made in support of these photos so thank you for that. It did make me wonder, however, why that after all the years and countless photos posted only some groups seem to have members that get so angry and offended.
I don’t really think it’s just about photography.
A couple of other pictures that have drawn the ire of the Facebook ‘locals’.
We are the first to admit that street and documentary photography is not for everyone. The idea has never been to promote it as anything profound or of greater importance than landscape or any other genre. The photos were always about real life. Some are controversial (to some people), some are humorous, some show a side of life that some people would rather close their eyes and ears to. Perhaps this is the problem. Some people want to pretend that they live in some utopian bubble and anything that goes against this is to be removed from public view.
There’s nothing wrong with pretty pictures (apart from they’re more prone to copyright theft but that’s another article). But every location is multi-faceted, all we are showing is a different side.
The photos have done well, especially the After the Coal Dust series. There has been a lot of very positive feedback much of it from the members of these ‘local groups’. Some of the most gratifying compliments are those that say we are portraying the local area in a sympathetic manner or showing empathy for the subjects. But even now the attacks still happen.
Traditionally this sort of photography would be classed as the norm. Ordinary people going about their everyday lives. Today it is something sinister. Why?
Perhaps it’s about fear and control. Groups dedicated to specific areas are more personal, some people seem possessive even. Anything different to the norm is treated as interlopers or outsiders. A photograph of a more realistic version of their area is the cat amongst the pigeons of their idealised view. They want to present their area to the world in a way that makes others envious. I see similarities in the way some people only want to portray themselves through filters on their phones rather than what they really look like or how the rest of the world sees them.
There is the fear that these pictures shatter the carefully constructed facade. To counteract this fear they try to exert control and drive the outsiders out. Unfortunately angry people often seem to be the ones that shout the loudest. Rather than trying to rationalise their animosity to the photos they will hide behind privacy and safeguarding laws that don’t really exist.
There is no real privacy any more. Our phones track us everywhere we go and CCTV is on every street corner. It is also the case that many of those that shout the loudest about privacy are those that broadcast their lives on social media anyway. Every holiday, even every meal they eat is posted online.
I think the backlash against street photography is symptomatic of a greater fear of anything different.
I’m not claimimg that local photography groups are hotbeds of hatred, far from it. I am just trying to offer thoughts as to why there is so much more animosity stirred up in these groups than in more diverse groups.
We are fortunate in some ways that certain groups only hate our photographs. In some cases, this hatred is spread much wider, directed against minorities, whether it be race or religion. The much larger issue in ‘local groups’ is that they can become echo chambers for dangerous ideas. Although not in any way related photography, groups like ‘What’s happening in Castleford’ tend to be dominated by a minority of angry people who are very vocal in their bigotry and prejudices. Petty racism, intolerance and an undercurrent of abuse and even violence by a very vocal and ill-informed section seem to dictate the ethos of the group.
Certain elements make Royston Vasey seem normal.
Society is more divided than ever and I think this shows in the often misplaced fear people have, be it photography on a small scale or something much worse.
After all this we’ll still be taking and posting street images. Whether we like it or not this is life. We can close our eyes but it doesn’t go away.