As the sun fought its way out from behind the clouds, quite a rare luxury in Vienna these days, I grabbed my Nikon D80 and went out on assignment. I was to take Portraits of the Viennese in Human Relationships – although I knew it would be impossible to hide from the "victims" of my viewfinder.
I also had to do several shots of a Shanigarten near Rudolfspark for another piece, so I decided to take the U-Bahn to Schottenring and then walk in search of the moments I needed. Street portraits make me uncomfortable, though, secretly freezing moments in the lives of strangers without them knowing it, trying to hold my camera focused on something else accidentally located just next to them.
Was it a violation of their privacy? Was I doing something unethical? As an apprentice photojournalist, I worry about things like this, and a tumble of thoughts were running in my head as people turned their faces away, some smiled, some shook their heads and some even mumbled something in German and disappeared from my sight. But I wasn’t giving up: Snapshots are what I like most in photography. After wandering about for a while and getting my Schanigarten shots, I decided to try my luck on the UBahn. The subway was jammed; I couldn’t even dream about the free seat. So I stood there sandwiched between the two old ladies who were almost leaning on me as if scared to fall. Then I saw a woman with a small child whom I had noticed earlier while waiting for the subway. She would make a great shot holding her child’s hand – definitely a Human Relationship photo. But remembering the ethical questions and the hazards of invading the children’s privacy, I gave up with my idea. Suddenly she approached me. "Do you speak English?" she asked, completely fluently. This is a question I use daily, and I was really excited to hear it from someone else.
"Yes, how can I help you?" I asked, smiling.
"Why do you do this," she challenged, as she pointed at my camera. She seemed annoyed by the presence of the camera.
"Oh, I am just a media student doing an assignment," I started to explain myself, "and if you are worried, I haven’t photographed you." I suddenly felt very defensive. Was there any problem?
She looked back at my camera suspiciously and without saying a word got off on the next stop, leaving me curious and my question unanswered.