I think this is a good post about the sensitivity of the whole "street photography" issue.
One reason I've always been the one taking the pictures in my world is sort of self-defense. Like Orang, I don't like having my picture taken, never have. However, it's part of the world, so if it happens, so be it.
As for being offended, a big part of life is being offended. Most of what I see in this world offends me. The idea that people think they should live life without being offended deeply offends me. What offends us is a primary part of what we are. We either accept, reject or change. Since change is so difficult and challenging, most people never go there. Unless we're outraged, we generally tend to accept -- the meek will inherit the earth, I guess. Famous philosophers have depicted hell as a place of total boredom where offense does not take place.
The mention of people who are "shy" definitely touched a nerve with me. If you pay attention, you really can tell when someone doesn't want their picture taken. I tend to not take their picture. I once saw a man at a county fair who seemed deeply afraid I might take his picture. To reassure him, I told him I knew he didn't want his picture taken and I wouldn't. As I've said before, I'm not out there trying to make people feel uncomfortable.
Suggesting that street photography may be unethical is beyond the pale. And the comparison to audio recording is simply inaccurate. Here's why I believe this. What I believe is the best street photography/candid portraiture captures humans at what I call an "interior moment." They have briefly abandoned their public mask and have gone somewhere inside. You can see that in the eyes, the face, sometimes the body language. That's a rare event, and it's why I have so few pictures I really love. It's sort of the holy grail for me. In contrast to an audio recording, this portrayal of the person does not intrude on what he's thinking or where his mind might be -- only that his public self is temporarily suspended. An audio recording, on the other hand, is going right to the mind. That's the basis of why police can prohibit video recording (with sound) in the U.S. on the basis of wire-tapping laws. Recording someone's thoughts is a far sight from recording their vacant stare.
Orang asked what makes photography different -- that's what.
As for arrogance in assuming other people will tacitly be your model, I agree. That's why street photography is so hard for most of us. I am not arrogant, and I don't think most of us are. But you have to act aggressively sometimes if you think it will produce art of value. Art itself requires arrogance. I think it's arrogant to publicly display my pictures -- who am I to think anyone would want to see my work? Yet, we do it, and I'm sure there are a variety of reasons behind that. The OP talked about the adrenalin, heart-pounding rush of taking a street picture. That's the arrogance of it. But he believed the image would be worth it. He saw something in another human that he believed was worth sharing with other human beings.
Visual art can be a form of storytelling. Our human brains make sense of the world through story. And people are the heart of stories we value most.
Probably more than anyone wanted to read -- but I do have an abiding interest in this topic.
Thanks for the thoughtful post, Orang.
I'm one of those people who hate to be photographed, and I do take offense when someone takes my picture, ironically, even though I also love to *take* candid photos of people. (which is one of the reasons I've enjoyed wedding photography) As a result, I don't do much street photography.
It's hard. When I do choose to engage in street photography, I make myself very visible; anyone who shows signs of shyness -- I avoid them. Do I miss a lot of shots? Yep, but then nobody owed me those shots to begin with.
True, it may be legal in the US, but legal does not imply ethical. There is a certain arrogance in assuming that others are (tacitly) willing to be your models. I'm sure I'll get some smites for that, but it's true. Imagine if, instead of a camera, you had a parabolic microphone and liked to record conversations at a distance. Even if you deleted those that were "too private" many people would feel intruded-upon by such an act. What makes photography different?
On the other hand, anyone who engages in willful attention-seeking behavior (street performers, skateboarders, etc) is fair game. "Crowd shots," where individuals are not readily distinguishable, are also fair game.