‘Do I Know You?’: A Reflection On Candid Photography

Have you ever thought about all the photos taken of you while you’re minding your own business – walking down the street, admiring an exhibition or dancing around with friends?

Candid photography has long been an unspoken required skill for professional photographers – capturing the ‘right’ moment becomes easier when the subject is unaware of the camera’s judgmental perspective. Photographers from all around the world have been offered major gigs, gallery exhibitions and contracts for events such as weddings, concerts and sports events, where candid photography is a chance to show off your spontaneity and photographic skills.

The first instance of ‘candid’ photography was in 1928 by Dr. Erich Solomon, who had previously worked as a photojournalist, when he hid a camera underneath his hat to photograph a killer on trial. Dr Solomon’s interest in recording socio-political events led him to spend the next fifteen years (he was last seen with his family, being transported to Auschwitz in 1944) amongst the major world leaders of the time. His ability to remain simultaneously visible (his high social status allowed him to enter these otherwise-clandestine meetings) and invisible to his unsuspecting subjects allowed him to document candid photographs of major events. These included the White House officials, the German delegation in The Hague (1929), and a rare meeting between Egyptian King Fuad and German President Paul von Hindenburg (1932).

However, candid photography is a hard skill to acquire, due to the pressures of capturing the moment without being seen. Photographers need to remain invisible to their subjects, documenting moments of reflection (an elderly couple holding hands), glamour (street photography for Fashion Week) or simple routine (a man lighting his cigarette) as they happen. Issues (legal and otherwise) of privacy and copyright are all-too-familiar to street photographers whose subjects are unaware of the prying lens. Who does the image belong to: the photographer or the subject? Who decides how the image should be used?

This practice of voyeurism grants the photographer an intimate perspective into the subject’s ‘self’, creating a strong aesthetic piece (‘candids’ are amongst the most sought-after practices of photography) at the expense of the subject’s privacy. Photographs of children are particularly problematic, for obvious reasons, but the practice of candid photography is perhaps one of the few instances in which the audience is able to experience genuine forms of human interaction, making this practice a highly popular one.

Although candid photography remains a challenging practice, it is one of particular importance, and it can be one of the most rewarding practices in the pursuit of photography. Shooting candid photographs allows the photographer to interact with their subject on an emotional level, becoming the observer of an invisible subject, and presenting the audience with an event that could otherwise remain unknown to the outside world. The beauty of candid photography comes from taking images that show the reality of life: the moments that seem monotonous are presented in a new light, while the audience is able to enter moments of emotional intimacy for the subject. The subject is unaware of the observer, and so their actions are uncorrupted by aesthetic interest: they do not pose and do not alter their ‘self’ to fit the status quo.

The subject of a candid photograph unknowingly invites the outside world into the world in which he is already absorbed, and permits a process of self-reflection through everyday actions, unblemished in their unawareness of the intrusive lens. Despite privacy and copyright concerns, it is extremely hard to escape being the subject of candid photography, particularly in a major city like London. Either way, only rarely do you ever come across a photo of yourself on social media, so you will never know.

As we approach the end of the decade (oof!), here are some of my (own) favourite candid photographs from the past decade, both in London and abroad. Hope you have a great Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Bring on 2020!

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