Pointing and Laughing

So this video came across my radar last week. My first impression was that anyone who dresses like this should not be surprised by the attention. At the same time, there’s something disturbing going on with the way people are reacting and giving her attention. It took me a while to figure it out but the way that people photograph her really bothers me. Both as a photographer and a human.

When I was little, I was taught that pointing and laughing at people was mean and impolite. Yet the number of people here who do basically that is shocking. Is she dressed in a way which pretty much requires a double take? Absolutely. Does that mean that you need to take a photo and share it on Facebook in order to publicly mock her? No way.

Having a camera does not make it okay for you to behave like a teenager.

I don’t mind the double takes and extra attention. That outfit is begging to be noticed. It’s the intent to mock—the digital version of pointing and laughing which bothers me.

That it’s very easy to read a photograph as mocking its subject only makes the explicit mockery worse. But even in a general case, this kind of point and laugh (or point and gawk) photography is a problem. Especially when it starts to represent a lot of what people both engage in and fear about the medium.

I’ve touched on some of these before in the [internet photographer] and #FlakPhotoOnlineExhibitionTitleGenerator (two days worth) posts. In particular, there are a few things here which bad/beginning “street photographers” do which give that particular pursuit a bit of a bad name—resulting in the ability to easily dismiss the genre as “just taking pictures of people against their wills.”

Although these aren’t just limited to street photography. There are a lot of guys with cameras trying to leer at pretty girls. And it seems like one of the easiest ways you can pretend to be a gritty photographer is to take photos of the homeless. That some of these photos get picked up by news outlets as being something new only encourages this kind of laziness.

There’s a lot of overlap here with my Human Zoo post too. A lot of the problems I have with the exoticizing approach to travel is that it’s essentially pointing-and-laughing photography. Part of the problem is that it’s dehumanizing. But another part is that it goes against the way we’re taught to behave.

When kids travel it’s the same thing, Lots of giggling and laughing at things which are outside of their immediate experience. As parents, our job is to make sure they learn how to be cool around things that are different. Gawking is not being cool. Pointing is not cool. Laughing is not cool. Mocking behind their backs is not cool.* Running to get a better view is not cool. Why would photographing be OK?**

*Something which Haley Morris-Cafiero’s photography has in common with the video in this post.

**Though there is part of me which wonders what Winogrand would do if he saw the woman in the video on the street. I’d hope for something like this but that’s possibly optimistic.

I understand the desire to photograph and share everything on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr/whatever. And I understand that the desire to share funny/interesting photos is the motivation to show in your personal propaganda that your life is funny and interesting. Just be careful and aware that sharing these things often includes the subtext that you’re immature, uncultured, and rude.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

3 thoughts on “Pointing and Laughing”

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: