I Love It When People Stoop

When people bend down in the street there’s usually a good reason for it. They’re picking up something important, or attending to an urgent task. No one “stoops in the street” (that sounds a bit rude, doesn’t it?) without good reason. In public it’s far more comfortable and dignified to remain vertical.

As a street photographer I love it when people stoop. It means I can catch one of those elusive but “decisive moments,” giving the image a justification for its existence. Every picture needs to justify itself by its inherent qualities.

When Stooping Reveals
Sometimes the photograph can benefit, not by showing the purpose of the figure’s bending action, but by revealing something significant in the space where the figure was standing. This is true of my featured image (above).

In this shot the subject is stooping very low and is looking out of the frame at the bottom. Despite his red shirt we therefore have to discount him as the main subject of the picture. Instead, he has been replaced by the dead birds with their yellow feet in the air. These feet seem to be pleading in supplication for second thoughts: “Don’t eat me yet…”

When Stooping Reveals Nothing
At other times we may come across an incident where the act of stooping reveals nothing whatsoever. For example, in the second picture (immediately above) we can’t see what the man is picking up. It’s clearly something fairly important because the lady with the scarf is watching intently. She “makes” the photo by displaying concentration on something which appears utterly trivial to the viewer of the image.

Street photography is often “about nothing,” in the classic Seinfeld sense. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld famously pitched their series to NBC executives as being “about nothing,” (whereas, in fact, it was about everything: about the hassles of real life as experienced by city dwellers).

When Stooping Is Upstaged
In a good street photo there’s usually more than a single point of visual interest. But when a woman in shorts decides to bend, revealing a couple of shapely legs, then it’s difficult to provide anything more interesting (certainly to a heterosexual male).

In the shot (below) I’ve solved this delightful “problem” by including a carved figure of a demure woman in a full length costume. I chanced upon the scene in question while walking along a Bangkok street in the early evening. In a sense, it was a readymade image of “the sacred and the profane” with some of my regular motifs: clocks, legs, and faded colours.

Speed Is Essential
I’ll end this short post with a tip. If you see someone stooping in the street, be quick if you feel like taking the shot! I had just a split second to get each of these three pictures, meaning that there was no time to make adjustments to the settings. Fortunately, I’d already set them for just this kind of eventuality.

I have to add one proviso: yes, be quick, but also be deliberate. You mustn’t snatch the shot, because there’s not going to be a second opportunity to obtain it.

I’m sorry if the proviso makes the tip more complicated but it would be wrong for me to leave it out. I wouldn’t stoop so low!