I like your face; I promise I don't want to make it into a jacket
January 30, 2013 8:56 AM   Subscribe

As a photographer, I often spot people on the street who are interesting to me, and of whom I'd like to make portraits. With guys, that's fairly straightforward - I just approach them and ask. However, I'm unsure about how to approach women whom I think would be good portrait subjects. How can I do this without being creepy?

The least creepy option that comes to mind is to introduce myself and hand them my card: "Hi, I'm a photographer; I'd love to make a portrait of you some time. Check out my website and drop me an email if you're interested." and then leave them be. However, some of my female (and indeed some male) friends have said that that still could be seen as quite intimidating.

Can anyone think of a better way to approach potential portrait subjects in public?
posted by gmb to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Uh, I dunno. Not sure how much *less* intimidating you could be, really. Sounds flattering, but that's just me. Perhaps if you added the descriptor that it's a 'street-style blog' or 'fashion blog' - I mean, not that, if that's not what it is, but just something that says 'NOT nude/porn photos', y'know?
posted by Salamander at 9:02 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I would mention it's a style/fashion/beauty blog, as appropriate, give the card, and then walk away. Give them a chance to drop you an e-mail, I bet you'll get some bites.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:04 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

That doesn't sound intimidating to me, but it does sound like a sales pitch -- like you want to charge me for some photographs of myself. I wouldn't necessarily be creeped out, but I would drop your card into the trash. I'm not sure how to fix it though...
posted by brainmouse at 9:04 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a woman, that approach would be the least likely to worry me. As long as you hand me the card, say your bit, and then leave me alone. Sticking around, or staring, or anything else would set off my creeper vibe. And of course I'd probably be flattered and go check out your website when I got home.

I've actually had someone stop me in the street and ask if he could take my picture right then and there, and then lead to me a certain spot. That would've been terrifying if I'd been alone. Your way is fine.
posted by trogdole at 9:06 AM on January 30, 2013

There is no good way to do this. You're doing the same thing that the stereotypical construction worker does -- reducing a person to her physical appearance and judging her on it, even though you're doing it positively. From the woman's perspective, there are so many ways that it can go wrong (sales pitch, creeper, serial killer) and so few ways that it can be beneficial that, yeah, it can be kind of weird and intimidating.

That said, go ahead and do it. You're not actually hurting anyone. Just be prepared to get yelled at every now and then.
posted by Etrigan at 9:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I once had Moo business cards printed up with some of my photos on the back. Perhaps if you had a collage of your portraiture on the back it might make it more obvious exactly what kind of photos you would be looking to take?

Probably best to approach women who are not alone, and even better if you yourself are not alone. It is slightly creepy, but there is no way to totally minimize that.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:09 AM on January 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

Don't be alone when you do this - if you're with a woman at the time, it's less creepy. Handing them your card is a good idea.

Also, if you usually have a bag of some kind - messenger bag is ideal - carry with you a binder with some photos in it containing examples of the kind of portraits you take, and when you make your pitch, be like, "What I do is portraits like these," and you take out the binder and show them. This will allow them to see that you actually are a photographer and not someone who's going to want to use a Funsaver to take naked photos of them on a grimy mattress, and also they'll see what would be expected of them (again, the silent reassurance that they will get to keep their clothes on). And then, "Check out my website, drop me an email if you're interested," and be on your merry way.

If you typically do take nudes, there is no way to approach a stranger for that without coming off creepy. That's not to say no one will go for it, but the odds would not favor you.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:09 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, also: Rock Steady is right, the woman should also not be alone.

And the binder with examples of your work should contain photos of both men and women.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:11 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing that "you're fine". The only thing I would add is to maybe clarify the "purpose" of the photo (i.e., "I'd love to make a portrait of you as part of my artist's portfolio" or something). Leaving that bit out does leave room for them to wonder "yeah, but what would you DO with that portrait, huh?"

Whatever you do, don't just take a photo of them and walk away (had that happen to me once, and it was sufficiently creepy for me to chase the guy down and ask him what the fuck).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Maybe instead of "I'd love to make a portrait of you," (which might conceivably be construed as a sales pitch or a creepy collection) you could say, "I'm an art photographer and I'm working on a portrait project. I'd love for you to sit for me."

There's no real non-intrusive way to approach any stranger about anything. I think you'll have to accept that you are going to make some people uncomfortable.
posted by muddgirl at 9:13 AM on January 30, 2013 [25 favorites]

If you had some samples of your work on you that might help too, so they could see straight off that you weren't doing nude or weird photos. The idea of on the back of your card is great, or even if you had some samples on your phone, just something to go see I am legit I have many pretty photos, none of them are me wearing anyones skin, and make sure it's a mishmash of men, women, pets, scenery and not all just pretty women.
posted by wwax at 9:15 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW I wouldn't find it intimidating or creepy (unless you approached me in a deserted place or cornered me somehow) but I would think you were trying to scam me or sell something. (Like that period of time when you couldn't walk anywhere in NYC without 5 people saying, "Can I ask you about your hair?")

If you had a street fashion type of blog/site, and you were taking the pic right there on the street*, and could quickly show them your blog on your phone as proof if they were like "Huh?" that would be FAR less sketchy than "call me so you can be alone with me and my camera in a room at some later date."

*I mean there in the street with a bunch of other people walking by, not luring them away like trogdole described.

(Also, my answer assumes a big city - in NY I'd think nothing of what you described; if someone did it to me in my little city now I'd be really confused at best.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:20 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you have a release for them to sign? Even an electronic one, on your phone or ipad? That usually reassures people.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a big difference, to me, between "Hey, can I take your photo right now for this thing I'm doing?" and "Hey, will you come to this location at a future time and allow me to take photographs of you?"

The first one is flattering, even if I'm not interested in being photographed. The second one is unsettling and moderately creepy. Additionally, in asking someone to contact you/come to your location, you're asking a stranger to do you a favor (I assume that this is uncompensated) because you find them/their look attractive or appealing. I suspect that many women would hesitate to go to the studio (or whatever) of a someone who met them on the street and asked them do to so.

Is there any way that you could take these photos on the street, right then? Because for me, that would drop the potential sketchiness from super sketchy to totally ok. Obviously not all women will feel this way, but if you find that you're not getting far asking people to come to you, it might be worth considering a change.
posted by MeghanC at 9:25 AM on January 30, 2013 [16 favorites]

Try not to mention her looks, or anything personal about her. That puts her in a weird position. Just say "I do fashion photography for a blog (or whatever), here's my card." She knows you wouldn't have approached her if you didn't think she'd make a good subject.

If she shows interest, could you show her an example of what kind of photograph you'd be taking? That way she knows you wont make her look horrible, and can see what kind of style photography you do.
posted by moons in june at 9:26 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first reaction when I read your question was "There is no way to make it not creepy". I've read people's responses (you not being alone, not asking women who are alone, having a binder, etc) and those are good suggestions I think.

However, the reality is that no matter what you do or how you package it, a moderate percentage of women you approach will find this creepy. I would find it very uncomfortable, even if I was with someone when they asked me.

On Preview, MeghanC is bang on right about the "Can I take your photo now" vs. "Come to this place later to let me take your photo". The latter option would be a much much much creepier thing and a way tougher sell for you. If the photo could be taken in a public space, you would be well served to reassure her right from the off that it would be entirely public and safe.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:27 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're a photographer, can't you just participate in the 100 Strangers Project and take people's picture on the street?

A photographer in my area is doing this project and approached my husband and son last summer. The picture he took is amazing, and I want to use him the next time we can afford family photos. He offers discount to the subjects who participated.

And a lot of people have heard of the Strangers Project.
posted by zizzle at 9:34 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sort of feel like there is no shortage of interesting looking people in the world and there must be a way for you to find people to photograph that does not involve you going up to random women on the street.

I'm a decently self-assured person who lives in a completely safe environment but when a stranger, especially a strange man, starts talking to me out in public I always have a split second of "OHSHITISTHISGOINGTOBEAPROBLEM??" before I figure out why they are talking to me and whether or not that is something I want to continue to engage with. Put another way, I totally hear where you are coming from but putting your own concerns [I need a way to get random people into my portfolio and I like sort of window-shopping in public among strangers] above the potential but pretty-well-understood concerns of others [womens' desire to feel safe when out in public and not just a target for anyone's random concerns that may or may not involve you].

So put another way, this seems fine to you because you and your friends know that you are not creepy. However any woman you approach if you go this way will not know you are not creepy until some point after you have started talking to her. So, I think this is suboptimal.

I have friends who are portrait photographers. They have a variety of ways for getting random people to sit for them to help with their portfolio.

- One of them solicits people on facbeook. They can contact him but he can also send messages. In these messages he can link to his extensive online portfolio so people can check him out on their own time and know he's the real deal.
- I have another friend who solicits people who are already in some sort of modeling situation. Either models that other people have used or going to one of those "we have a lot of people dressing up and photographers are invited to go shoot there"
- I have some friends who are part of a Utata group and they go out together, a bunch of dorks with cameras and they are a LOT less creepy that way because there is an assortment of them, ages and genders and they are clearly a bunch of dorks with cameras.

Again I totally understand that you have the best intentions, but I think it's worth assessing why this approach--going up to people in public randomly selected by you--is the one you are going with and if you can see that even though your intentions are genuine, it's still perpetuating the "women in public are seen as available for solicitation" problematic situation, even if your solicitation is well-meaning and even if you are a decent person.
posted by jessamyn at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

Young female, usually alone, in New York City:

People come up to me on the street with questions all the time. As soon as I realize that they are not asking for directions or the time, I'm done.

I don't answer questions about my hair, I don't want a free medical massage, I don't try samples, I don't take coupons or flyers, and I don't sign petitions. (I have, however, stopped to give man-on-the-street interviews to news reporters.)

However: if you have a professional-looking legitimate business card (one with some of your work on the back would be excellent), and that is in your hand to give me as you are approaching me, and the first words out of your mouth are "I'm a photographer and I'd like to take your photo, please let me know if you'd be interested, thanks," I'd probably be flattered enough to look at your website later. I probably wouldn't e-mail you, but I'm pretty risk-averse. I know plenty of women who'd take you up on the offer.

You should make it clear that you are not requiring an answer or any of my time or attention right in that moment. If you pulled out a binder of your work I'd be appalled at the thought of how much of my time you were planning to take up, and I'd be done.

You also shouldn't be loitering—at least in New York, anyone who looks like they don't have somewhere to be is extremely suspect. Give me the card and hurry on your way.
posted by thebazilist at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'd need to not believe you were a Nigerian trying to get 2.7 million dollars out of the country, that you were not going to photograph me to ridicule me in some way, that I wouldn't have to pay for something later on, or give you a credit card number or . . .

That's a lot to overcome. Some of the suggestions above would help. I would need to know what you're getting out of it which wasn't ripping me off in some way. Maybe you could offer me a free print?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2013

You're doing the same thing that the stereotypical construction worker does -- reducing a person to her physical appearance and judging her on it, even though you're doing it positively

I think this depends on the tone you're using when you do this.

If you walk up to women with a leer on your face and say, "Hey, babe, you're gorgeous. I'd love to take a few photographs of you in my studio, if you know what I mean..." then yeah, that's objectifying and no sane woman is going to agree to do that. And it's inherently going to feel icky, even if you were just trying to be nice.

If you walk up to women looking normal and say, "Hi there. I'm a portrait photographer, and I'm always on the lookout for interesting faces and styles. I'm interested in photographing you for my blog," that's not reducing a person to her physical appearance and judging her on it, and there's nothing creepy about it.

Other things that may help:

- Make sure the card you hand out is super professional and in no way implies "sexy sexytimes", even through the use of a particular typeface or color scheme. If you have a business name that you operate under, make sure it is super legit and not sexual sounding.

- On your website, make sure that the type of photographs you're asking people to pose for are well-represented. I would take any sexy nudes off the site, even if it's something you don't really do anymore, or something you're sometimes interested in but isn't why you're soliciting female models on the street.

- If you need the answer to be a faster yes or no rather than just them taking a card and getting back to you, maybe carry a smartphone and be prepared to show them the site and/or your work on the spot?

Example -- if the photographers of Humans Of New York or The Sartorialist stopped me on the street and wanted to photograph me, and I'd never heard of those blogs, I would go to their websites and immediately understand what was being asked of me and not feel threatened.
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't necessarily agree about approaching a woman who's in a group. If I was with my friends (especially a group of women) and someone singled out me OR one of my friends, it would make me uncomfortable. You're making purely superficial judgments, not trying to get to know anyone on any other level. /two cents.

For taking photos at a later time:
Don't pull out your portfolio (or offer to show your work) to a stranger on the street unless they ask. Too pushy/scammy/premeditated.

Have a special page on your site for "I approached you on the street" people, to give them more information/comfort before contacting you. Make it a quick rundown/FAQ for how your casual portrait shoots go, what you do with the photos, etc.

For taking photos that minute:
If she doesn't immediately walk away or say no, offer to show her your blog, on your phone or hers. A tablet would also be good for this. Carrying a printed portfolio is still too pushy/scammy unless you're camped in public with a bunch of gear, obviously spending your afternoon photographing strangers. If you *happen* to be carrying a binder of your photos, *just in case* you see a woman you want to photograph... ew.
posted by itesser at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pulling out a binder would make me more annoyed, not less. It would look like a prop.

I had a guy do this to me, once. He handled it pretty well: he had a business card, he was polite, he approached me when I was with friends, and when I said "No" and declined his business card he left without making a fuss. When I was in my twenties I got a lot of unwanted attention from men and this was just one more guy trying to get me to talk to him.

So if you do walk up to a reasonably attractive young woman, keep in mind that you may very well be the tenth person that week who's wanted something from her just because of how she looks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2013

I also thought you meant you are taking pictures right then and there. It's definitely a more difficult sell if you are asking people to follow up with you and take time out to see you. I don't know if it's an option, but being able to take a picture immediately will probably be more successful for you.

If you go this route, I would also recommend that you word it as a "portrait project" rather than "I want to take a picture of you". You should also try to locate yourself in a semi-public area and your cards should have a URL where they can see their picture later (and if they like it they might volunteer for something else in the future).
posted by like_neon at 10:13 AM on January 30, 2013

> If she doesn't immediately walk away or say no, offer to show her your blog, on your phone or hers. A tablet would also be good for this.

I think the tablet would be better, if you do want to have your portfolio. I'm not going to hand my phone over to some guy who I don't know, and if you hand me your phone you're probably going to stand very close to me.

Peeking at your website, I think the photos in "Portfolio :: Editorial II" would be the most reassuring; I would see that you don't photograph only women being pretty and/or undressed, which is what I would have presumed when approached.

(This is remembering the perspective I would have had when I was younger. Now that I'm middle-aged, I'd be more amused than annoyed.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:14 AM on January 30, 2013

I second jessamyn that unless your project specifically entails taking photos of random people on the street a la Humans of New York, then probably there are better ways of soliciting portrait subjects.

The only situation where I might agree to such a request is if the photographer
(a) said something like "excuse me please" to politely get my attention, but didn't push the matter if I didn't stop and engage with them in response;
(b) once having engaged my attention without assuming any entitlement to it in this manner, the photographer had a concise statement that managed to convey the request to take my photo, but also why approaching random strangers on the street is instrumental to their project and not some creepy or lazy method for soliciting portrait subjects.

If I found the project idea interesting, that would then be the time for the photographer to preferably show me their actual blog/project/portfolio, eg. via smartphone and internet. I would be strongly disinclined to participate if it involved anything other than getting my photo taken then and there, with a waiver form available for me to sign.

I have bern randomly stopped and asked for my photo before. The (female) photographer explained that she was taking photos of students on my university campus for use in promotional materials, and would I mind walking down that stretch of walkway casually again, and not with my sleeves pulled all the way down over my hands? I was not in a hurry and complied, but wasn't so pleased after the fact when she never got around to sending me a release form that she didn't have copies of with her at the time, or letting me know if/how she was actually going to use my photo.
posted by eviemath at 10:14 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Assuming you have a semi-willing subject, don't offer to send them a copy, but of course do so if they ask for one. I had someone do that with me once in pre-email days (like, I would have had to give up my address) and I immediately declined. The offer could have been totally legit for all I know but it still squicked me out.

Lou Jones, a prominent street photographer based in Boston, gave an excellent talk on street photography and the care and handling of subjects to my photography club last fall. He has a couple of entries on the subject on his blog: here's an example.
posted by Currer Belfry at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Young, female, in Canada. I would not really be alarmed at your approach, but I'm totally cool with random strangers on the street.

I really like mudgirl's spiel as it's a bit more elevated than sleezy, but really, some people will say no, which is cool.
posted by tatiana131 at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2013

I would try to look more 'pro'...have your camera with you, possibly one of those vests with all the pockets...but yeah, not your portfolio...look like you're out shooting.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:45 AM on January 30, 2013

Most of the time (and this is only in my personal experience,) creepy is a vibe thing. If you are not doing anything that a person should be creeped out about, it won't creep a person out.

I've been with my youngest sister on several occasions when she was approached by legitimate photographers. She had a couple of long running contracts with two photographers from being approached on the street. Both times, the photographer (both were male) had his card ready and handed the card to her as he introduced himself. He stood far away enough that he had to stretch out his arm to give her the card. They both had to speak up because they were not that close and I think that made a comfortable distance. After the introduction, the reason for contact, he (both he's) shook her hand and walked away.

My daughter is five and I regularly get approaches for her to do be in photographs. It's always the same arm length, introduction, card, a "thank you" and a step away. I don't intend on having my daughter in pictures other than mine or the school's so I don't call, but I do actually look and they are always legitimate photographers.
posted by Yellow at 10:48 AM on January 30, 2013

If there was a sure-fire way to get pictures in the way you are asking in a non-creepy manner, I think creepy people would co-opt it and it would become creepy. Kinda the "efficient market hypothesis" of creepiness. So there probably isn't away beyond Yellow's experience.
posted by flimflam at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something I like to think about in these kinds of dilemmas; Many people don’t want to seem like creeps, salespeople, etc. so they don’t approach other people. So only creeps and salespeople approach people. So people think that anyone that approaches them must be a creep or a salesperson. Break the cycle.

Just be nice and professional like people here have suggested. If you’re not doing anything weird don’t let someone else define your behavior. If you step out of your house someone will think you’re weird and creepy, or if you don’t.
posted by bongo_x at 11:03 AM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's been a lot of good advice already (business card with photos on the back, specific "did I approach you on the street?" section of your website, really brief interactions but the ability to pull out a tablet if the other person says they'd like to see more--wait for verbal confirmation and give them plenty of space not to ask). I'd like to add that even if you intend to do studio photography, taking up street photography as your approach is a good way to build comfort because it allows multiple interactions before the person has to make a decision whether to come to your studio, and makes it a shared decision in some sense.

1. Approach person on the street, ask if you can take their picture, then do so without taking up more than a minute of their time. Give them your card (with photos on the back?) with a link to your website, and get their contact information. (You should probably be asking them to sign a model release right about now, too.)
2. You contact them to show them the shot, say you appreciate their taking the time, and that if they're ever interested you also do studio photography and you'd love if they'd sit for you (or whatever). Point them to a link of your work, where, as mentioned above, they won't see n00dz no matter how tasteful. No pressure. The emphasis here is on how you appreciate the time they've already spent letting you photograph them. You could also include one other thing in this email--I'm not sure what, but a way for them to have one more email exchange with you before having to decide whether or not to come to your studio, thereby giving them more familiarity with you & with the mere idea of interacting with a stranger whose motives could be suspect purely because they're a stranger on the street.
3. They contact you. Maybe.
posted by tapir-whorf at 11:09 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you decide to go with the handing out the flyer/business card thing, make sure it has pictures OTHER THAN portraits of women. Even more important, make sure you have a variety of types of photos on your website. If I went to your website and it was full of nothing but photos of women my age, I would be kind of creeped. If it had photos of people of various genders, ages, races, I would be less creeped. But I probably still wouldn't come to your studio.

And I agree with those who say that the binder makes it worse; reminds me of sketchy charity solicitors.
posted by mskyle at 11:12 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

To build on the great comments above.

If you did give out cards - having a specific web page to send people to is good as well as something that has your picture there w/ a camera too. That way they can confirm that it was you that they met and not some random guy linking to a photo website that may or may not be his. If any of your portrait subjects would be willing to write a blurb or something that may help too or casual shots of you taking the portraits (shot by someone else).

I don't know what you look like or where you'd be approaching people but do take notice of other people on the street in the are who do approach people and try not to look like them. For example in front of my work there are often young people asking if I care about the environment or children. I now automatically ignore anyone with a clip board, especially if I notice matching shirts or very generic black messenger bags.

Looking well put together and professional will also help.
posted by oneear at 12:19 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If some guy did that to me, no matter how well dressed, I'd get away from him. It's weird. It's like those gross guys who are "model scouts" except this is way worse.

I'd call the non emergency number to report a suspicious guy bothering women on such and such street.

You might be totally innocent, but if some naive teenager or Russian immigrant ends up getting kidnapped and trapped in your basement sex dungeon, I'd be sorry for them. So I'd have to call the non emergency line on you.
posted by discopolo at 12:55 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to ask that you just please don't do this.

For a certain proportion of the women you approach, the interaction is inevitably going to create disquiet, anxiety or even fear. What gives you the right to mess up a stranger's day like that? The fact that it's convenient and helpful for you really doesn't make it OK, even if your intentions are good. It's just rude.
posted by Corvid at 1:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input so far.
discopolo: You might be totally innocent, but if some naive teenager or Russian immigrant ends up getting kidnapped and trapped in your basement sex dungeon, I'd be sorry for them. So I'd have to call the non emergency line on you.
It's this, specifically, that stops me from going out and doing it. Not the idea of being thought a creep - someone somewhere sometime is going to think that about me, I'm sure; we can't control how other people perceive us - but that I'm going to put someone else in a situation where they feel endangered, or as though others are going to be endangered by me.

I've been interested in doing street portraiture projects for a while - 100 Strangers is one that I was interested in but never got very far with.
jessamyn: Again I totally understand that you have the best intentions, but I think it's worth assessing why this approach--going up to people in public randomly selected by you--is the one you are going with and if you can see that even though your intentions are genuine, it's still perpetuating the "women in public are seen as available for solicitation" problematic situation, even if your solicitation is well-meaning and even if you are a decent person.
Simply put: there are interesting people in the world and I like photographing interesting people. But sadly, you're right: whether or not I'm photographing both men and women (and if it wasn't clear, I'm interested in photographing interesting people, not limited by gender, race, or anything else for that matter) I would still be perpetuating that stereotype every time I walked up to a woman and gave her my card. That's a sad situation, but then Schrödinger's Rapist casts a shadow over many things.
posted by gmb at 1:14 PM on January 30, 2013

Response by poster:
Corvid: For a certain proportion of the women you approach, the interaction is inevitably going to create disquiet, anxiety or even fear. What gives you the right to mess up a stranger's day like that? The fact that it's convenient and helpful for you really doesn't make it OK, even if your intentions are good. It's just rude.
You're quite right; thank you for putting it so clearly.
posted by gmb at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2013

Asking someone to be a part of an art project is rude, selfish, mean, and threatening? This is sad, like the guys that are convinced they need to carry a gun because someone’s going to get them. I say if you take that position then you are contributing to the problem, you’re helping create the climate of fear.
posted by bongo_x at 1:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Asking someone to be a part of an art project is rude, selfish, mean, and threatening?

Again, some percentage of the US population is going to find any interaction with a stranger to be selfish, rude, or threatening. The art project part is tangential, in my view.

Personally, I think it's fine to accept this fact, continue to approach people with a respectful demeanor, and keep the interaction distant and short, but I'm not the one attempting it.
posted by muddgirl at 1:46 PM on January 30, 2013

bongo_x, the people who contribute to the "climate of fear" are the people who behave inappropriately, not the people who are shellshocked by inappropriate behavior they have experienced.

gmb, you've got some good tips already. Another possible idea is to put some solicitations up in places where you see that people who might be a good fit for your project congregate. A flyer with an example or examples of your work and "Want to be part of my project? Email a snapshot to {address}" or similar is a way to get people engaged at their own tempo.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:16 PM on January 30, 2013

I certainly didn't mean that gmb was intending to behave inappropriately in any way! Just that assholes stop women on the street and ask for their picture and then act inappropriately all the time, so it isn't odd or paranoid for those of us who have had that experience to give gmb as many tips as we can so that he is mistaken for one of those assholes as little as possible, and preferably never.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:20 PM on January 30, 2013

As a non-gorgeous/fairly ordinary looking woman who likes to wear interesting clothes, I've been approached by strangers asking to take my picture a couple of times. Here's why I said yes:

1- They did not crowd my space or leer at me.
2- They said something like, "I'm a photographer for X (or working on a project about Y), and when I saw (something non-sexual about me), I thought you might be a good fit for my project. Would it be OK if I took your picture?"
3- While saying this, they handed me a business card with contact info and a URL.
4- They either wanted to take my picture then and there, or they made it clear that it would be done in a public place/somewhere familiar/somewhere non-creepy.
5- They left the ball in my court.

Also, be prepared with a straightforward answer the person you approach asks if you pay: "Yes, this is what I pay people to sit for me." or "No, I am not able to pay the people I photograph."

I'd add that if I said "no" and a photographer didn't accept that immediately, my no would become adamant.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:56 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm in the camp that basically refuses to engage with strangers except to give directions, because essentially all other interactions have been guys commenting on my looks, which is very uncomfortable for me.

If you are going to approach strangers, above all else, be willing to IMMEDIATELY take no for an answer, back off, and walk away. No pursuing, no encroaching on personal space, no "just hear me out". Once you hear any version of no, you're moving on.
posted by ktkt at 3:14 PM on January 30, 2013

I actually flunked out of photography school shortly after acing my portait courses (I spent all my time arguing on usenet instead of in the darkroom), and let me tell ya... the only way to get models was to approach interesting looking strangers, and explain that the prof wouldn't let you use other students as models.(Sadly true. The stated goal was to improve people skills.)

Artists and photojournalists approach people they'd like to photograph every day of their working life. It's not creepy.

Be aware of the circumstances, tho... People skills, remember?... don't come on too strong, don't approach strangers while they're alone or otherwise isolated (women OR men), and a business card or an ipod full of your work you can show them would help. Some people will think you're a creep, or otherwise react negatively. This comes with the territory. Get used to rejection.

Here's an article by National Geographic on the topic.

Now, even I couldn't work up the nerve to do street photography for more than the one assignment on it, but still... Art, not creepy.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had a photographer (albeit a female one) ask to take my picture for a fashion blog. I was very flattered and excited.

However - what made this okay for me is that she took my photo on the spot, and then gave me her business card so that I could look up her blog later. (Also, it was a blog I was already familiar with).

If she'd given me her card first and asked to take a photo at a later date, I would have suspected a scam and not followed up.
posted by RubyScarlet at 8:21 PM on January 30, 2013

I showed this question to my husband, who is a photographer who has taken lots of street portraits of strangers, both men and women.

His response boils down to this:

1. Make sure you are in a properly public, non-intimidating location before approaching anyone. Lots of other people around, not any kind of confined space.

2. Strike up a conversation with the person first, before asking to photograph them. Like a normal, friendly conversation that you'd have even if you weren't thinking of photographing them. If there is no reasonable way to strike up a normal, friendly conversation in that situation, then there is no reasonable way to ask to photograph them. Just let it go.

3. After successfully striking up a conversation and asking them to take their portrait, if they say yes, take the portrait right then and there. Do not ask them to come back to your studio, because that is kind of creepy, in all honesty. Give them your card. If they want you to take more portraits of them, they have your information and they can contact you.

4. Make sure your grooming, clothing, body language, tone of voice, all your non-verbal cues, all say that you're a professional who's friendly, relaxed, non-intimidating, and non-demanding. This just falls under the realm of "social skills." Respect their personal space, and be aware of their non-verbal cues too. If they're uncomfortable, back off.

He recommends taking part in the 100 Strangers project to practice your people-approaching skills.
posted by snowmentality at 6:48 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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