Should We Be Photographing on the Streets right now?

It’s frustrating for everyone, even if we haven’t yet suffered personally from the virus. Most of us usually photograph outdoors, or invite people into a studio. Neither is ideal right now, with most recommendations to stay indoors except for essentials.


As a street and documentary photographer, it’s natural to want to be out there. To even feel like I should be out there. Isn’t there a responsibility to document the situation? Isn’t it essential that we have a documented record of what it’s like through this significant time of a global pandemic?


If I was living alone, and willing to self-isolate, then maybe I’d consider it. If I lived in Manhattan with easy access to Times Square or Brooklyn Bridge or 5th Avenue, maybe I’d go out occasionally. Maybe I’d use ‘exercise’ as an excuse to take some photos. From the Jersey side of the Hudson though, it seems irresponsible to head into New York right now, or anytime soon.


The other difficulty is that it’s easy to think in terms of just the risk to ourselves. “I’m young and healthy, I’m willing to take the risk”. Except that’s not the point is it. The risk is that we pick up the virus, and transmit it before we have any idea we’ve got it. The more people move around, the more it spreads further.


The risk might be tiny, if we’re careful, if we wear a mask, if we stay away from anyone else as much as possible. But the more people that think it won’t matter or that they’re an exception, the more people die. Maybe that’s over-simplifying, maybe it’s not.


I don’t know, and maybe nobody knows exactly. Different countries and different US states have adopted different strategies with a big variety in the advice being given. There are still vastly different opinions. That nobody should be outdoors right now. Or that it’s an overblown insult to our freedom as individuals. Or anything in between.


Personally, I tend towards the former. There seemed to be an early opportunity to be very cautious, maybe even intentionally over-react, if that’s possible. Most countries have lost that opportunity, but still for most of us it has only been a few weeks of any restrictions. Are we that bored of Disney+ already? Some, in hospitals and shelters and essential services, don’t have the option to self-isolate. And I realize that many have lost jobs and businesses or even a family member, and face incredibly hard times. And we need to do more to support them, and the charities that are struggling for funding. We need to find a way of not losing too much.


I’m not saying that I won’t photograph. If I need to go out for groceries, why not take a camera. But we don’t need to go out daily to document the situation. Document your isolation. The situation out there isn’t changing anytime soon.






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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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