It's been pointed out to me that taking these kinds of photographs can be construed as creepy. I suppose I thought I would be immune to the accusation of invasion of privacy as I wasn't photographing the person's face, so they wouldn't be identifiable. But there's the odd reasoning that says it's still unethical, as the person has no chance of being aware they're being photographed, and so have no say whatsoever. When I think about it that way I see these photographs as what they represent of me, what they say about my personality and how I view other people, and relationships in general. The half-wayness. Or I dunno, maybe I'm reading too much of a muchness into it, I'm tired and grumpy today.
I didn't consciously realise I had taken so many photographs of stranger's backs until about a year and a half ago when I started looking back through the photos I'd taken to that point - I was in search of a unifying theme to make up a series to apply to an exhibition proposal. I was a little surprised to see how many I had taken, especially without having been aware of it. Looking back now I wonder what effect that knowledge has had on me when taking these photos now. I think I actually started taking more of them, but now I had a frame of reference. I became able to recognise what it was I actually thought would make (to me) a good photograph, or at least a photograph that said something. I still wasn't, and am not, sure what exactly that is. My reasons are still at the subconscious level, and while they're there all I can do is guess.
I don't think there's anything sinister in it, or creepy. I can see where the thought comes from but my intentions, though vague, are definitely not malevolent. On a practical level taking photographs of people without them even being aware of my presence is a way to avoid any sort of confrontation. But that raises the question of why I feel the need to include people at all. Why, if I'm so shy or scared, do I just not bother at all and stick to scenes bereft of people? Landscapes, still lifes etcetera. The simple, and honest, answer is that landscapes bore me and still lifes seem like too much work. But in relation to what? Which just brings me back to the question, why this necessity to include people?
I do know that if I'm looking at a series of photographs in a book or on a blog or wherever I spend more time looking at those that feature people in some way. I'm pretty sure I've always felt that way. I think the reason I preferred looking at, and later taking myself, these photographs is because of the variability, of expression (literal and figurative), of size, shape, race, gender, whatever. It's like every photograph of a person is somehow more new than a photograph of the moon or a field or a river or a building or a spider's eye or a monument or a flower or a tree or a dead animal or a cloud or a gravestone.
I still do take a lot of these photos (most of the ones here are from the last year or so) but I do take plenty of people directly within their line of sight. It's not a case of doing it once and then being able to do it always; I find that more than any other type of photograph this is the most dependent on my own mood. I generally have no problem asking someone for their photograph (again, depending on my own mood) but I find I don't do this very often, unless there's a specific reason. There's something about the person looking at the lens that lacks mystery. Maybe I just can't take those photographs.