The world confuses me. I never realised how funny it was when people take photographs of one another in the street. I guess, having always worked in fashion and attended fashion weeks, it was just normal. Peacocks, attention seekers, minor celebrities, actual celebrities, and people that think they are celebrities – it’s an industry where the click of a camera is rarely far.
But last year, I was in some bar in Tooting for my friends birthday. Her friend, a guy who I see every year at this particular birthday, came up to me and told me either that he’d set up an Instagram account where he posts pictures of bloggers shooting their “little outfit photos” on Instagram, or that he had started following an account that did that. I can’t remember exactly which one he said – I am sure it was the former, but I had had a fair few drinks, so it could have been the latter. Either way, he continued to say how funny it was that there was Instagram accounts posting and essentially taking the piss out of people, like me, just doing our job. Or, women (as it mostly is women, let’s be honest), not even doing it for a living, but simply taking photos of themselves for social media. He was probably trying to be funny. I really think he thinks he was being funny, and trying to make conversation. But it all went downhill and I told him “people like you are what make me hate my job” – perhaps a little dramatic, but like I said, it was my friends birthday and I’d definitely had a few drinks
But since then, it’s become more of a reoccurring theme in my daily work life. Someone shared with me an Instagram account (which I am not going to give any publicity to by naming here) that features a feed full of videos of shaming people getting photographed and a bitchy little bio of “desperate attempts to become #IGfamous.” Who knows, maybe it’s the one run by that guy from my friend’s birthday?! When I was shooting these photos with Sarah Ellen recently, I noticed a girl who walked by, turn around with her phone out, and point it at me to video me. Luckily I’d noticed straight away, so I pointed at her and she looked shooketh and pretended to film the rest of the street instead. It happened with Gemma, where a woman sitting having a coffee turned and tried to film us from behind her book so I got my phone out and started filming her right back. She quickly stopped and looked really angry, as if, like, how DARE I had tried to film her when she had… well, tried to do the exact same? Funny when the tables turn, hun.
Another photographer I work with, Fifi, said someone came right up to her and another one of her clients and got in her face filming them – not even trying to be discreet. There are no laws in the UK against this – if you’re in a public place you can photograph it. Although I think common decency goes along way these days, and it seems to be lacking.
Remember the Facebook group Women Who Eat on Tubes? A Facebook group aimed at shaming women for eating on the tube by posting sly, unauthorised photos taken by onlookers? It has me wondering what really is the difference here. I understand narcissism comes into it. We all hate a narcissist don’t we, and who is more narcissistic and self-obsessed than those who take photos in public for their Instagram or social media?! hmmm… I bet you any of those who actively shame others by photographing them go on holidays want to get nice holiday photos, or want a nice new profile picture of them in a dress. Perhaps they need a killer new hinge photo? Whatever it is, I can guarantee you they are the same kind of person who feels good when they upload a nice picture of themselves to Facebook or Instagram, and they get likes by friends, families, or strangers. The ability to “like” something on social media taps into our human nature to want and need to be liked, so it frustrates me when some find it necessary to become vigilantes, and the deciders of what’s shame-able and what is not.
I know I’m talking about this mostly through the lens of being a #influencer, but let’s broaden the spectrum. I wouldn’t dream of stopping to take a photograph of a street cleaner, or a shop worker, or someone giving leaflets out on the street, and posting it to social media. Why would I stop someone doing their job and minding THEIR own business, to make it my own? And make them uncomfortable? You’ve got tourists doing the exact same as us – taking photos on the streets. Groups of girls or guys. People with their parents. People walking down the street in interesting clothing. But even if someone came walking down the street in their underwear – something not exactly seen as socially acceptable but you do you hun – I would never think to video or film it, because I am not a dick. At what point does it become a shameable, laughable, photographable offence?
I guess it comes back to perceived narcissism in others, and the contempt we hold for people who are shamelessly self-promoting. It’s true we have become a society that’s so self(ie)-obsessed in comparison to the pre-social media area. When anyone can become an influencer, it really is yours for the taking as long as you have an iPhone, some decent editing apps, and the balls to have your photo taken publicly and own it. I’ve seen plenty of non-influencers upload stories and pictures of influencers trying to get *the shot*. But to be honest, I’ve also seen influencers take photos and post on their stories taking the piss out of regular girls just #doingitforthegram out on Oxford Street etc. Is it that we all really hate how we’ve become such a narcissistic culture, whilst also succumbing to it?
Aside from shaming, you’ve got to think of it as a power thing. Sad, but true: women have reason to more often feel vulnerable in public spaces than men, and to take unauthorised photographs is an abuse of that vulnerability. So it’s shit when men do it – but for a woman doing it to a woman – it feels much worse. Surely she should know better? We get angry when men take creep shots of women in public – and rightly so. It’s pretty frowned upon for someone to engage in that kind of behaviour. For me it’s not just about the lame shamey aspect, it’s about respect and common decency. You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable if someone did it to you (like when I turned the camera back on that woman videoing me), so why do it to anyone else? I guess, overarching it all, do you have any morals or are you just a dick?
In my own bubble of this, I’m told that I shouldn’t let it bother me. Trust me, I already feel like a bit of a dick taking photos to post on social media – I don’t need people making me feel anymore of a knob for twiddling my hair and smiling at the camera for more than the apparent 5 second timeframe that’s apparently social acceptable. Luckily I’ve learnt to get over it, and I just remind myself that I’m living my best life and this may have been the highlight of their sad little day. But to others it can have serious consequences. Unsolicited images that have gone viral have ruined peoples lives. It can end with people suffering mental health problems, and in some cases has lead to suicide. I’m lucky enough to be able to laugh it off, or stand up for myself when people try to do it, because at the end of the day I’m just doing my job. But others may struggle a lot more.
What really really gets me about this whole phenomenon, however, is this: the person photographing people doing their photos on the street is never just doing it to keep for themselves. As if. They’re doing it to share on social media too. They are doing it so that they get likes, comments, reactions, and follows, and all of the things that the they are essentially shaming the person for trying to do. A bit of a hypocritical act, realistically. Let’s shame people for trying to get #IGFamous by errrr, capitalising off them and trying to do the same thing? What makes that a better and more socially acceptable option? In my eyes, if you are the kind of person that gets enjoyment from embarrassing and shaming others, you are a bully. I wouldn’t want to get likes from putting other people down.
When someone gets out their phones to film and photograph a stranger on the street, they are being instantly condemning and judgmental. Nothing positive rarely comes from this – all you do is make somebody’s life a bit shit – be it embarrassing them in the moment, or them finding the images of themselves later online.
Social media has advanced quickly, and it seems as though social etiquette is yet to catch up. On a deep level, I think social media is robbing us of our empathy: these people are humans, and by uploading pictures of them online for all to see, we are forgetting that. But on a shallow level, I just think some people have very sad lives if you’re the kind of person that feels great enjoyment from taking the piss out of strangers, go you, you absolute loser. And if you are on the other side of the spectrum, and find yourself the subject of someones camera phone, just brush that shit off and you do you hun.