Once in a NYC street photography class taught by the incomparable Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, I got carried away photographing kids who were skittering, tumbling and climbing around a park that was framed with surreal murals and fantastic mosaics. Entranced by thecapricious movements, I chose not to break up the atmosphere by asking permission right away from fathers and mothers watching from the sidelines. Instead, I moved right to the center of the playground with the camera - not hiding, and clearly taking photos. I planned to explain myself to the parents later and get their consent to use the photos for my class and blog. In some cultures, people are really good at reading body language, clothing, and facial expressions to distinguish between foe or friend. Often my plain and open style is reassuring to people who have yet to meet me face to face — reassuring that my intentions are benign. But in this case, I made a mistake. "Later" grew to be an entire hour later, as I got lost in the blur of observing and clicking the shutter at key moments. This allowed too much time to pass before I could let the parents know that was shooting for a class.
Suddenly, as I was crouched in the middle of a mosaic, a crisp-suited father strode toward me. He got in my face and said it was dangerous of me to photograph children without getting permission, hinting that a parent in NYC would easily sock me good if things went wrong. He was only protecting his child, and he was right. I felt like a jerk, then, for having worried the parents, and stupid for putting myself in this position.
The lesson makes me hyper-cautious whenever I raise my camera in front of a child. Once photographing three generations of an extended family for an assignment, when I detailed exactly who would be able to see the photos online and in print, (anyone in the world), I learned that a few of the children were keeping their whereabouts hidden from a violent father. Those images never saw the page.
In this plaza in Scanno, Italy, I spent several days watching the children at play while their parents shared stories in the background. I love the way the children's forms punctuate the plaza's open space, and I love how the tree is an anchor reaching upward right through the middle of everything.