Here’s a photo I took at an old auto shop in Bangkok, Thailand. I found myself walking by this group of mechanics in Chinatown trying to pry this old car engine apart with a homemade crowbar. You could tell they had been working on this thing for way longer than expected, but it just wasn’t going to budge. More people started to gather around while these three just kept jumping and torquing by any means necessary. The scene was nuts, and of course I wanted to get some shots of all this! So I quickly pointed to my camera as to ask if it was Ok to shoot them, they nodded and smiled, almost happy there was someone there to document it. After many jumps on the crowbar, they finally cracked the engine open, and everyone burst out into applause, it was a riot. I was glad that they were hospitable and let me shoot while they were working, but not everyone wants their photo taken, and just like life, you don’t always get what you want. These guys could have just as easily declined my offer. I get it, they’re hot, tired, and covered in grease, but pleasantly surprised to discover the opposite.
Little confidence boosters are always nice in life, but isn’t it how we handle our fears and rejections in life that truly define us? It’s funny how we can avoid situations that could possibly lead to smallest amount of rejection. Even if you’re an extrovert or people person, we can all take the easy route from time to time.
So, in learning from my own experiences with street photography and confidence in approaching people – I find it’s the idea of rejection that’s more frustrating than the actual rejection itself. We spend so much time dwelling on the outcome, that we’d just as soon not bother dealing with it. Of course, I’m generalizing, but I found this in myself when I discovered that before I became a photographer, a simple “May I take your photo?” to a stranger seemed difficult. Now with whatever the outcome, I’m pretty comfortable with approaching people more easily, and it’s fun. By taking that small step it’s a win either way, even if you are turned down, you’ve shown courage and realized you gained an experience – good or bad, keep at it.
So how about you give it a try with street photography? Do it for the experience. Spend an afternoon downtown or at a nearby tourist attraction and ask people for their photo and see what happens. Who interests you, how do you connect with them? Of course, make a sound assessment (important!) about the people you approach, but I promise you will learn something about yourself which you might not have known. Either way, it’s a lesson you’re sure to remember and value. Heck, you might even get more into it than you thought!
Not all rejections have a story, normally it’s just “No” then you move on. However, during one of my recent photo walks, I strolled past the coolest elderly couple. I instantly saw a great photo opportunity. They were wearing the most colorful & funky old clothes, both smiling as they were talking to each other over some silly story. So, of course, I asked them if I could take their photo, but they laughed and turned me down. I was disappointed to not get the shot, but didn’t feel rejected either. I asked why they didn’t want their photo taken, “We are too old for photos now, and we don’t look attractive anymore.” I sure wish that I could have convinced them otherwise, but instead I just enjoyed our small talk and getting a chance to meet them. I’ll never forget that experience, and will remember it always. So put yourself out there, build confidence, get rejected, make experiences, meet people, and you’ll be a better person for it. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.