Lessons in Voyeurism

I’ve never been keen on photographing unknown subjects. Not that I don’t feel the urge, especially living in New York City where some sidewalks are runways and some people are unicorns from other planets. 

Personally, I really enjoy getting to know a subject and taking time to do so. I observe how they move, smile, and generally how they look in the light. Sometimes the first few stills are perfect, but typically it’s closer to the end of the session that I feel I get better end results. It’s when we have time to get to know each other, when I have time to make them comfortable is when we get “that moment”. That portrait then becomes documentation of the relationship of the subject and the photographer.

Earlier this week, I forced myself to go out into the world to take photos of strangers. I’ve always struggled with the idea. When I was in undergrad studying photography, I read numerous Susan Sontag essays and one quote from her “On Photography” essay always stuck with me. 

“Essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”  — Susan Sontag

After hopping on the subway to meet a friend for lunch in Soho, I parked myself in Union Square and started shooting.

A group of girls holding “Free Hugs” signs walked past and one of them noticed my camera and threw me a smile. That helped ease the immediate awkwardness that I felt, but it wasn’t until I was heading back to Brooklyn on the subway that I finally felt comfortable taking photos. The end results were less than perfect, but the action itself was a great lesson in voyeurism and I’ll definitely go out again.

- Janae Jones


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