The perils of a language barrier when taking photographs abroad is a question I’m often asked. The fact is that most people are not gifted with the ability to learn a language quickly but there is no reason why you cannot learn the basics of please, thank you, yes and no etc.. There are two universal languages however that everyone understands.. the smile and the gesture of hand movements. I have no ability to speak any other language than English and even though I’ve travelled to many countries its the smile and using my hands like in a game of charades that have enabled me to create images that look natural and unposed. If I could speak another language its unlikely I would even use it as I’ve got away with so much more acting like a dumb tourist than a clued up local lingo savvy journo..
I was walking in Ueno Park near the center of Tokyo and came across this girl sitting on the bench. I was attracted by the way she was sitting and her hair. I walked past, backtracked, lifted the camera to my eye whilst keeping eye contact with her and took 1 shot only. I didn’t ask her but she was aware I was taking a shot. After one shot I said “ありがとう” (Arigatō) and smiled.. she smiled back and I moved on. I’ve always enjoyed looking at this image. I only took one shot because I knew I had the shot the moment after I clicked the shutter. There was no point in treating the subject like a rifle range target and when shooting street portraits I think its respectful to create portraits with the minimum of fuss and in silence. Working with purpose and absolute confidence is essential when shooting on the street.
Taking street portraits is sometimes a 2 way exercise in silent communication where both the photographer and subject are aware without the need for words. In fact words often ruin the moment if spoken before taking the shot.. all the atmosphere of whatever you saw/felt will vanish. The subject always has the option of holding their hand up, turning away or even just yelling at you. Its a question of you as the photographer understanding when the right and wrong moment is. After you have taken a shot then communicate in the best way you can.. thats part of the joy of travel. Shot on a Leica M6 using a 35mm Summicron and then created a Polaroid using Pola software.