On Monday 26th August, Swansea based street photographer, Math Roberts, was shooting at Nottinghill Carnival. It was the final day of one of the world’s most talked about public events. At around 10:30 pm on Moscow Road, while talking a photo of a couple embracing each other, Math found himself in a violent altercation.
“It [the altercation] was about 500 yards from the hotel I was staying in,” explains Math. He continues, “I took a photo of a couple embracing each other on some doorsteps. Naturally, as a street photographer wanting to capture the moment undisturbed, I didn’t ask their permission.” Noticing his presence, the woman of the couple turned to him to ask if he had taken their photo. This is a situation where most street photographers would clam up.
“She clearly wasn’t happy about it and it all kicked off. The man with her became pretty violent immediately.” Going into further detail, Math bravely shares, “…he punched me a few times until he knocked me to the floor (I’m only skinny!) and then grabbed my camera and smashed it on the floor (this was the most painful bit!).”
A street photographer’s main goal should be to try to defuse a confrontation. But in Math’s case, despite his best efforts, he was unable to calm his attacker down. “I apologized several times and offered to delete the photo, which I always do if someone is unhappy. But that didn’t really help at all on this occasion.”
“I’ve taken over 10,000 street photos and this is the first time anyone has been violent with me…”
Math decided not to report the incident to the police. “I didn’t really want the hassle,” he says. “I was exhausted, and my camera was insured, so I just headed back to the hotel and had a beer.”
Events like this can impact the confidence of a street photographer. While there’s a debate on ethics, we can all agree, in the instance of simply making a photograph, nobody should be the victim of violence and abuse. And when something like this happens, some may lose the desire to go out and shoot. This is not the case for Math. “I don’t think it has affected my confidence to shoot street really. I had a week or so out from shooting as I had to replace my camera. I think this helped as it gave me time to reflect on the situation.” He finishes by saying, “I’ve taken over 10,000 street photos and this is the first time anyone has been violent with me – so the odds are pretty good. Maybe subconsciously I am a little more wary about what I’m shooting, but I’m sure that will wear off soon.”
“Keep a safe distance from people that become aggressive in their approach…”
Confrontation of variant degrees is inevitable in street photography. While most will encounter an exchange in words, some will, unfortunately, have the same experience as Math. Our advice is to remain calm in all situations. Keep a safe distance from people that become aggressive in their approach. And when possible, explain the positives of your actions. In most cases, this will keep you safe on the streets and ensure you have fun while creating your photography.
You can see more of Math’s work by visiting his website.
All images by Math Roberts. Used with permission.