Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sunny Sunday Street Photography in Shinsaibashi

We have been discussing the challenges and ethics of taking photographs in public in Japan in class lately. I have provided my students with a conservative set of guidelines that serve to protect the people we research/photograph and the students themselves. We had wonderful weather over the weekend, so I took advantage and went to Shinsaibashi in Osaka to do some street photography, all the while keeping the ethical guidelines in mind. Can my students follow the guidelines and still do good visual anthropology? Here are some of the shots I took.

Crowds - OK. Street performers and people watching - OK (especially when other people are taking pictures). Aside from the band pictured here, I encountered another street performer: a young woman playing guitar and singing. She was very attractive and wearing somewhat revealing clothing. She attracted a good sized crowd, including a few photographers with long telephoto lenses that were aimed at the young woman (to get extreme close-up shots I suppose). I started to take pictures as well - until I noticed the sign next to her. The sign included her name as well as the fact that she was a second year junior high school student and 13 years old. She certainly didn't look 13. Minors (children!) - not OK. I stopped taking photos and was grateful to have noticed the "well-labeled society" that Ted Bestor discusses in his chapter of Doing Fieldwork in Japan (2003, University of Hawaii Press).

The final shots are of things which certainly add to the environment and flavor of Shinsaibashi. But the real attraction is the people. And I want to photograph more people. Perhaps I have been in Japan too long because I felt a little shy about asking strangers if I could take their picture and put it on the blog. So I ask your advice, dear readers of VAOJ, how can I go about ethically taking pictures of people in public? Comments, please!

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