Emotional Intelligence and Photography

Chase Jarvis’ dirtiest secret in photography video is one of the better videos I have seen for a while. In the video Chase raises the idea that the best ideas and inspiration come from outside of the photography industry. I couldn’t agree more.

A lot of problems that we encounter as photographers don’t have anything to do with photography which is why we need to look outside of the photography industry for inspiration and solutions. It’s naive to only look to the photography industry for inspiration and solutions to every problem we have. One such problem that can’t be solved by the photography industry is the anxiety that we might feel when shooting on the streets. We get anxious that people will get angry at us or cast dirty looks in our direction.

For a lot of people, myself included, practising photography on the streets in public (i.e. street photography) can induce a high level of anxiety. Most of the time the worst thing ever happens is that someone casts a judgemental, filthy, or suspicious look at me. But we have all heard horror stories, which sadly are becoming increasingly common, of photographers who have been confronted by someone who has angrily, sometimes even physically, voiced their displeasure at people practising photography in a public space and tried to stop them for whatever misguided reason.

A lot of people aren’t willing to deal with the anxiety that comes with shooting in public. A single bad encounter or two might be enough cause a lot of people to stop practising photography in public and instead turn to a genre of photography that is less emotionally risky like landscape, still life, or product photography. Even worse a bad encounter or two might be enough to stop some people from practising photography altogether.

It’s sad that some people can make others feel bad about practising something that they love like street photography because street photography is a terribly important genre of photography. It’s a snap shot that presents a slice of life as it is, and given enough time it’s a historical document that shows how society, people, places, and fashions change over time. It shows a beautiful side of life that we don’t always see or notice. It reminds us that for all the misery in life there is still some beauty to be found in the boring and mundane existence that is everyday life.

Most street photographers have a story or two about someone voicing their displeasure about them shooting in a public space. I know I have. But because I feel so strongly about street photography I haven’t given up. Instead I’m compelled to find a solution for dealing with such negative and anxiety inducing situations when they arise.

I don’t have a final solution yet, and probably won’t ever have a final solution, because every situation is different. But I am building up a set of tools to help me deal with situations when someone voices their displeasure or shoots me a filthy look.

The tools I have found are ideas that have come from outside of the photography industry from The School of Life YouTube channel. The School of Life is an organisation that is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through culture. I had never heard of Emotional Intelligence before and was curious about the idea. So I investigated further and discovered that Emotional Intelligence might be a useful idea and a tool that can help us manage stress and anxiety, such as the stress and anxiety that we experience when someone voices their displeasure or shoots us a filthy look on the streets.

The term Emotional Intelligence was introduced to a wider audience by John D Mayer Peter Salovey in two 1990 journal articles describing it as the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought. Emotional Intelligence is a tool and skill that can be learned that gives us the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. Understanding and using Emotional Intelligence to help us understand and regulate our feelings can help us deal with the less than pleasant parts of life.

Through learning about Emotional Intelligence I have come to understand that people are voicing their displeasure or casting filthy looks because they are the ones that are insecure, scared, worried, or anxious about something. Once I understood this I then made the decision to not take on other peoples issues or problems by worrying about why are they are directing such negative sentiments towards me. I don’t know or care why they feel so negatively about people shooting in public because that’s their problem and something for them to recognise and work on. It’s not my problem. It’s important to recognise that they have a right to voice their displeasure or cast filthy looks but that I also have the right to shoot in public without being harassed. Also they have no right to stop me from practising photography in public as long as I’m not disturbing anyone, hurting anyone, doing anything wrong or illegal.

Now if someone voices their displeasure or casts me a filthy look I just try to think “that’s ok, it’s fine, you have a right to voice your displeasure or cast a filthy look but you don’t have the right to stop me from doing what I love doing” and move on without giving it any more thought because I’m not going to waste my time and energy on other peoples issues that I can’t fix. Instead I’m going to spend my time and energy on problems that I can fix.

Emotional Intelligence can be of benefit to us in many different areas of our lives. Using Emotional Intelligence to deal with certain situations when we are out on the streets shooting in public and someone voices their displeasure, gets angry, or casts a dirty look is just one way in which it’s useful and applicable to photography.

Many of us can be a bit myopic when it comes to our photography, only looking within the photography industry for inspiration and solutions to our photographic problems. If I didn’t have other interests besides photography I would probably never have come across the idea of Emotional Intelligence. Learning about Emotional intelligence probably isn’t something that I was going to learn from the photography industry. This is just one example of how looking for inspiration and solutions outside of the photography industry has helped me with my photography.


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