What happens when street photography goes wrong? A Leica ambassador and street photographer found out while filming an episode for his YouTube channel – and as a result, captured the whole thing on video.
Robin Schimko was on a trip to Melbourne, Australia last year and wanted to film some content. However, no sooner had the Leica aficionado set out on his shooting sojourn than every street photographer's worst nightmare came true: a confrontational subject who got physically violent.
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Schimko, aka the_real_sir_robin on YouTube and Instagram, had fired his first few frames on his Leica M6 – including one of two people hugging in front of a park bench on a riverbank. The footage shows that, as he took the shot, one of the subjects points and says something.
"So when walked away I noticed that somebody is following me," says Schimko in the video – which you can see embedded below. "And I thought well, whatever, maybe it's just coincidence, let's see. I just kept walking and then this happened."
He is then approached, quite calmly at first, by the other subject – a tall and imposing man. He says to the photographer, somewhat politely and nervously:
"Okay, to take someone's photo… it is illegal. You need their permission. Same with recording someone. Now, if you take someone's photo, you have no right, they have the right, to ask, you – you've got to ask them first. If you take the photo, you literally owe them money. Ring the police and ask them… you do not have the right to take pictures of people when they have not given permission."
At the persistent mention of money, Schimko deduced that this was not about the photograph but a scam from someone holding him up for cash. At first he tries to correct the subject about street photography rights in public places (which does vary from country to country), but after being told that "I know my rights very well because I was in the army for two years," he decides that it's a lost cause and just decides to walk away.
This is when things escalated.
"I'm trying to tell you, unless you delete those photos, I'm going to have to do something that the police won't mind. It's called a citizen's arrest," explained the subject. Schimko continued walking, towards a nearby security guard hoping for assistance. Despite this, the subject announces that, "I'm going to citizen's arrest you sir, if you do not do what I asked, you have ten seconds to comply."
He then tackles Schimko to the ground and pins him down while arguing with the guard who comes to intervene. You really have to see the confrontation and resolution for yourself – as well as the photographer's follow-up video where he responds to viewers' comments – but kudos to him for having the confidence to post the video of the incident.
The video raises many interesting and important questions about traditional street photography and the way that we, as photographers, interact with subjects. And it serves as an important reminder that, in these situations, anything can happen. Make sure you are aware of public photography laws wherever you are shooting, and be mindful of the potentially dangerous situations you could find yourself in.