My first confrontation: Taxi drivers, drunkenness and lessons learned

For me, confrontation on the street for taking a photograph is something to avoid. First of all, it means that I’ve not been as candid as I would have liked. And second, because it means explaining myself to a stranger. It’s not that I particularly care whether they appreciate or understand what I’m doing. I’d just prefer to avoid the hassle.

Well, I had my first confrontation in August. I was in London heading back to King’s Cross Station at around 10.30 PM, and four taxi drivers stood around talking under bright lights, waiting for their next fares. The scene looked neat, and I wanted a photo. I’d had a bit to drink and was feeling pretty confident, so I jumped a railing to get closer to them – in hindsight, I’m pretty sure this is what drew their attention. I didn’t realise they had clocked me, and as I was walking away, three of them ran after me, demanding to know why I’d caught a picture.

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Like many newbie street photographers, I’d rehearsed this scenario in my head and had a rough script ready to go. All I needed to do was explain my intent: it was part of an art project, and I thought the scene they were in looked interesting. I’d show them the picture, or give out my email to share the final edit with them. We would laugh, shake hands and walk off into the sunset. It was a rough script, but I thought it would do.

Faced with three out of breath blokes and being a bit pissed up, I forgot all this and went straight for the legal defence: “This is a public place so I can take your picture”. This didn’t land very well; they wanted to know what I wanted to do with the image. I repeated my rights, they the question. We went back and forth a few more times until I finally told them that it’s artistic and that it isn’t going anywhere special; maybe my website or Instagram. I told them to look street photography up on Google, and that there was no need to worry because they looked beautiful. They walked away, unimpressed but answered.

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Driver on his way to have a word // Unedited JEPG // August 2021

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I think it’s important to be honest about this confrontation, for myself and for anyone reading this who worries about getting hassle while taking street pictures. How it went down with the taxi drivers was entirely my fault. I was overexcited to be in London taking photographs after 18 months of lockdown, and the nightmarish mix of caffeine and alcohol from the free espresso martinis was in full swing. I was walking away from the scene, oblivious to being seen, and panicked when I realised three men were running after me. I’m not tough, and I naturally freeze up when caught off guard. This incompatible combination of factors boiled down to what they must have seen: a man-child being willfully difficult and weirdly cocky for someone so defensive.

While I’m not happy with how the confrontation went down, I’ve learnt a lot from it. Mostly, how not to act. When answering questions with a blunt legal claim, I came across as unhelpful and defensive: this annoyed them. Contrast this to the moment I told them what I was actually doing: they left me alone. From their reaction, they didn’t have any interest in the picture itself, only the intent. Once they had the answer, I was old news.

In short, I learned that openness and communication is the best way forward. At most, people will think you’re weird, but who cares what they think – you’ve got your picture and you’re doing nothing wrong.

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Not only was this my first confrontation, but it was also the most intense (so far). Since then, I’ve had a few comments in passing, two or three people asking what I’m doing, and a drunkard shout something indiscernible at me. This might sound like a lot, considering the taxi driver incident was less than a month ago (at the time of writing), but recently I’ve started getting much closer to my subjects and scenes.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m a pretty introverted person and would prefer such things never happened. But street photography is something that makes me very happy, so a few moments of discomfort is a price I’m willing to pay. It’s the nature of practising something in public – whether it’s skateboarding, marathon running or street photography, you’ve got to pack it in or suck it up (oh, and try not to be a dick).

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Thanks for reading, and don’t pack it in. Be yourself and enjoy it.

Published by William Lobley

Writer and street photographer

2 thoughts on “My first confrontation: Taxi drivers, drunkenness and lessons learned

  1. I’m convinced that people who are concerned about a photo being taken of them out in public are most likely wanted by law enforcement or immigration. I too have been confronted, but both times it was by parties I didn’t capture. Go figure. Keep up the good work. Street Photography Rules

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe you’re right! I really don’t know what people are worried about – the amount of privacy you give up just by stepping into a city, using the internet and just existing in the modern world is huge. One little picture in street is really nothing in comparison! I think the best policy for street photographers is just being honest about our intentions and work, and not try to hide what we are doing (we risk looking pretty creepy if we start sneaking around too much!)

      Like

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