Disentangling the "truth"

Lately, I've been really struggling with something. It's a thought that crosses through all veins of my work, as a photographer, a storyteller, a teacher, and a writer. In the past few days, it has been pushed to the forefront of thought as I try to find words. When do we have permission to share another person's truth?

Let me give you some background: As a writer, I'm constantly juggling the telling of my story -- the story of an event or an experience that may include other people -- with the need to speak the truth of a situation. This means: recognizing what is my own experience, my own truth, and what is part of another person's experience and not mine to share. How do I talk about the experiences in my life -- the ones involving other people -- while not taking away the power of their truth?

The same experience is true for me as a photographer. Especially as a street photographer. When is it okay for me to take a photograph of a person and share that online, and when do I need to ask permission {or, even further, NOT take the photo}? Where is the boundary between documenting the world and invading the space and privacy of others?

When I go out and take photographs on the street, I tend not to take pictures of people. If I do, I always ask permission. Even if I'm fascinated by someone, or if the act of asking would interrupt the moment, I make sure to get permission before publishing or sharing the image.

How would it be, if I went out and took photographs of your children without asking? How would you feel if I captured your break-up, your lover kissing another woman, your best friend dying? And then posted those photos on the internet without asking your permission? Would you be upset? Would you feel violated?

The same is true when we write. Telling the story of your relationship ending isn't my place. Telling my experience of your break-up, that I could write. But it's not my moment, it's yours. If we are going to write our truths that involve other people, we need to find the balance between recognizing where our truth lives and when we are crossing the line into telling another's tale.

If you know that someone is uncomfortable with you taking their photograph, don't take it. There is a balance between expressing your art and respecting other human beings. The same is true for telling our stories. If someone is uncomfortable with how you are telling a story, take pause to examine: where is your truth in this story, and where is the Truth of the story, and where are you simply taking another's truth and trying to tell it, when you have no way of knowing it?

When will we find the compassion to honor one another as human beings, while not berating others for speaking up against disrespect and upset. If the way you are stealing someone else's story offends me, imagine how it feels to the person who lost their story?