Showing Human Interaction on the Street

The vast majority of street photos fail to show any real interaction between people. Is this an accurate representation of what actually happens on the street?

Most of the people moving about our big cities on foot are shopping, going to and from appointments, or looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat. Couples and small groups are different, but their interaction is usually limited to chatting. Any demonstrative action between them occurs only now and again. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Action and Interaction
Human action is something that underpins our entire economy and society. Wasn’t it the great thinker of the Austrian School (of economics), Ludwig von Mises, who based his entire theory on it, calling his definitive work “Human Action”? No product gets made, no service provided, until someone takes action.

The actions we make can be either competitive (as in the featured image, above) or collaborative (as in the image below).

Man stopping woman from falling into river

In fact, what often happens in a given society is a constant switching between the two modes of behaviour. People compete with each other for money and love, but they collaborate when there’s a major threat to the common welfare.

I think there can be a large amount of self interest in collaboration. The man in the photo, who is rescuing the woman and preventing her from falling into the water, is simply doing his job. Drowing a passenger would have unwelcome repercussions for him personally.

Observing Interaction
Because human interaction tends to happen at rare moments on the street, the photographer has to respond quickly in order to capture it.

Yet it really is important to capture these moments if we want to give a rounded and accurate picture of city life.

One way to do this is to attend events that attract groups of friends and sightseers. When people are not burdened with the need to reach appointments or get to their place of work they’re more likely to engage with each other in having fun.

I’m not sure if Ludwig von Mises would approve, but it seems that leisure rather than work — in my photos at least — leads more frequently to human interaction on the street.

Women chatting and pointing

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