Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On my mind for a long time is the idea that aggression plays in making pictures.

Teaching a workshop in the center of Kuala Lumpur, I was not five feet away when a commotion started. One of my students was involved with a local who cleverly asked to see his camera. Then he grabbed it & threw it to the ground. He was upset that my friend had taken his picture.

Taking someone’s picture is an aggressive action. Despite all the urban myths about “stealing someone’s soul” or being against their religion, including a person in your photography can be misconstrued as an invasion act.

I was on the telephone with Nevada Wier of Santa Fe, New Mexico, an amazing photographer, who specializes in the Far East. She brought up the fact that she did not appreciate the words “shoot”, “take” & “get” as they applied to photography, that they were too aggressive. I compared my experiences playing football.

Several days before a big game, in practice, I started to assess my injuries: an ankle might hurt & so I could not turn left on it well. As the date neared I would evaluate my opponent. What were his strengths? Could he cover my moves? Was he as fast as me? The day before the game the adrenalin would kick in & the butterflies would occupy my stomach. By the time I hit the field I was so psyched up I was practically frothing at the mouth. The same for when I photographed big events: the Olympics, Democratic National Convention, Mardi Gras, public marketplaces. It is hard to “get” good pictures because of the competition or the environment, if you were not hyper alert & somewhat aggressive. We used to say we had sharpened our elbows.

Nevada said she did not relate to the sports metaphor. Her counter was that she was never aggressive, she was assertive.
I like that.


Jon Sachs August 14, 2009 at 5:30 PM  

I agree that taking a photo without asking is either aggressive or sometimes insensitive. One reason I stick to nature is that I cannot simultaneously keep in mind both the photographer's mind of light, lens, aperture, etc - while also dealing with people as human beings.

People are messy and sticky - you can get sucked into their world.

I would be a better - or different kind of photographer if I could deal with the messy aspects of photographing people on the street.

Michael Krupa,  August 19, 2009 at 8:53 AM  

A photographer for the Globe here in Boston tells me that he does mini exercises to boost his peripheral vision as he prepares to shoot sports. In a similar vein I know that I enter a zone that is something like hunting when I am looking for and working to get good shots--so one aspect of this discussion includes the point of view and experience of the photographer while another is that of the subject--eg, is any level of intrusiveness acceptable--think too of the iconic photo of the young girl fleeing in Vietnam as well as other wartime photography versus paparazzi shots--so the purpose of the photo seems to me to matter in this discussion...

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.