We have a funny relationship in this country when it comes to 'being watched'. The paranoia that seemed to dominate the 1990's seems to have given way to a sort of reassurance when it comes to CCTV cameras, it was interesting to see a local vox pop which couldn't find anybody objecting to the use of surveillance cameras in our towns and cities as a means of combating crime. Of course watching wheelie bins, dog owners and other sorts of dogging activities is frowned upon and the whole question of civil liberties takes over.
Street or public photography is however another matter and there are plenty of examples of photographers being assaulted by other members of the public for having the temerity to be seen taking a photograph in a public place with anything more sophisticated that a pinhole camera. That doesn't mean that 'people watching' should disappear all together of course and it's a regular feature of many magazine Q and A sessions with the great and the good that somebody will mention that they enjoy the simple pleasures of sitting with a glass of something and simply watching the world go by.
It's the small fragments of overheard conversation that also make it so worthwhile, I mean what can you do but become intrigued when over hearing one woman say to another, "Well of course it was me that made her a lesbian in the first place," or "I haven't got a passport but they don't usually check."
Even without being close enough to hear any of the conversations that are taking place between two or more people body language is sufficient to open up a whole novel of narrative possibilities. I mention this simply because I spent twenty minutes at Southampton Central station early yesterday afternoon waiting for a model to arrive from Basingstoke by train. The comings and goings and the people involved made for some great entertainment. The couple without tickets, the couple whose bag was too big to get through the ticket barrier, the granddaughter (aged all of six) who insisted that she was old enough to travel without her Grandparents, the teenager who left his luggage on one side of the barrier whilst he and his mate went off to catch the Portsmouth train and almost caused a security alert. And of course you don't have to watch it all first hand as it were, the television screen above the barriers allows you to observe casually without making your voyeurism obvious.