Friday, 11 April 2014

Women Who Eat on the Tube and street photography

I started writing this a question on the Facebook group of my photography group and it seemed to turned into something much longer, so I decided to post it here too. 

Those of you based in the UK will probably have heard of the Women Who Eat on the Tube furore that's slowly leaked from social media into the mainstream news cycle. I think this raises some questions for those of us with an interest in street photography (whether just passing or more serious). 

This morning the guy behind the idea was on Today defending his actions as an innocuous personal art project victim of its own success. The consensus among the critics seems to be that the whole thing is sexist and just another way for chauvinists to shame women. 

Although I can see that specifically "targeting" women can be seen as a little suspicious, my understanding is that it was mostly the later (once the thing (started in 2011) got some traction) comments on those pictures that did the shaming. 

But the criticism seem firmly directed at the project rather than the reactions it created in its intended audience. This leads me to question what is going on. Is there a legitimate concern or is it just another hysterical twitter storm? And what does it all mean for us photographers?

I fail to see what is shameful about the act of eating. The pictures were taken in a public space where they were therefore allowed and the "victims" remained anonymous. If WWEotT is reprehensible, shouldn't there have been an outcry when Tubecrush came to notoriety? Is there a double standard being applied here? 

The critics also talk about breach of expected privacy, saying that people should be able to expect not to be photographed and have their image subsequently shared without consent. But that leads me to wonder what we should do with the images of famous street photographers, the Doisneaus and the Maiers of this world, who took (presumably) unauthorised shots of passers by which can now be easily seen be thousands (or more) people. Should their art be banned? Is their work more legitimate and acceptable because they are now recognised artists? what about emerging artists? 

I realise that a group of mostly men is perhaps not the best place to discuss this but I think that, both as gay men (and a few women) and photographers, we have a stake in the debate and I would like to hear people's thoughts on this.