I don’t like photographing in Beijing. China is more difficult than other countries for me: people follow me with their eyes as I walk around the street, are hesitant to have their picture taken, rarely respond to smiles, and there is a lack of public beauty1.
Things like this make me afraid. At the surface Beijing doesn’t feel inviting. But it is inviting, it just takes a bit of work to break the surface. Of seven recent times I’ve asked someone directly if I can take their picture in Beijing these have been the responses:
- Five people said yes
- One person laughed and said no, covering her face in embarassment
- One person loudly screamed “no photo” (in Mandarin) over and over again until I walked down the street out of sight.
That third type of interaction is scarring. Negative interactions feel worse, and heavier, than positive interactions. This happens digitally as well: A bunch of people can tell me how much they love my photography but one douche on Facebook can leave a nasty comment and all I can think about is the negative comment2.
In Beijing, just as online, it’s hard to ignore the negatives. What I’m doing now is just going out with the camera out for a bit every day, asking politely if I can take a picture or smiling and holding the camera up, and trying to ignore any negative responses.
The positive responses are totally worth it. I get a picture to remember them. The negative responses aren’t ever recorded as images — and I’ll forget them in time. This is also why I delete negative emails and comments immediately but keep the positive emails around. It isn’t worth keeping a record of nastiness when I can focus on the positives.
- Buildings are gray and there is almost no graffiti. A lot like Washington, DC. A local friend tells me that buildings are only designed to last for 20 years. I don’t know if that’s true — certainly some of the hutong buildings have been around for over 500 years — but there is something about the Beijing aeshetic I can’t put my finger on and I find lacking in beauty. [return]
- I don’t know why we overweight negative feedback. Producing content for the web is mostly a labor of love — there isn’t much money. Many bloggers talk about how much negative feedback they get and how painful it is. There is a reason this blog doesn’t have comments, if people really want to give feedback they can e-mail me. [return]