28 November 2006

To photograph, or to take photos?

Interesting post over at Shards of Photography. I quote it in its entirety:
"To photograph" is to talk, to sympathise, to open up to people, to interact and to share your emotions with you[r] subject, and hopefully vice versa. The actual act of tripping the shutter is only second to that. This is in contrast to "to take photos", where a photo is "taken" without "giving". When photographing, the subject gives a part of himself to you in response to your giving your attention, your showing interest, your sympathy. It's still not an equal deal as you gain income, fame or whatever you think to gain from your photographs. The subject most likely doesn't benefit materially from this deal unless he (or often she) is a model posing for you. Often the subject, however, is left with a positive feeling, a sense of importance or just had a pleasant interlude in an otherwise boring day.
I think this is very important, as a Christian and a photographer. Creating art with my camera, when it involves a human subject, must involve my relationship with the person I am photographing. I am guilty of "taking photos" when I've shot pictures of charming looking natives in foreign countries where I'm traveling, all from the safe distance of several yards, with a telephoto lens so the subject doesn't even know she's having her image "taken." I am realizing now that, aside from being somewhat unethical (you are supposed to get a person's written permission before publishing a photograph of him anywhere [though I've never published any of these surreptitiously "taken" photos], and in certain cultures having your photograph "taken" is akin to have your soul captured), it is not a very Christian way to do photography. As someone who has been touched by relationship with the Almighty God, I should be ever more keen to engage relationally with the world and the people I photograph. This post by ShardsOfPhotography has really got me thinking.


RML said...

Rosie, photographing is difficult. Not so much the composition, or tripping the shutter at the right time. What isdifficult, though, is getting the interaction right.

Interaction demands you spending (some) time with your subject; time that we often don't have.

It also demands communication; especially a problem when you don't speak the language or don't have anything sensible to talk about.

For me, those are the biggest obstacles to do "photography" instead of taking photographs. I'm a product of the West: always in a hurry, and little time to slow down. Even now that I have vacation I can't slow down properly; always needing to "do" something.

And making small talk (the communication part) isn't my strongest point. I like to have a "meaningful" conversation with people. I want to get to know them. I want to build a relationship of sorts. But again, once you start on that road, there's a lot of time involved, even when you speak the same language.

And truth be told... I'm not really that much interested in other people. When photographing I'm not looking for a relationship of any kind. I photograph to fill a creative void inside me.

Perhaps the chasm between how I feel what photography should be about on one hand, and why I photograph on the other hand, are a cause of my variable interest in photography. I "need" my photography fix, yet without the relational aspects my photography means little to me. I "need" the relational aspects, yet I'm not much interested in people enough to spend time to get to know them.

I know there are people out there who are good conversationalists, good entertainers, always willing to listen to people, spend time on them, and so on. Often they become actors or doctors and get paid for that skill handsomely. I'm not one of those people and I realise it hampers the growth and depth of my photography.

Rosie Perera said...

RML, thanks for those further reflections on your blog post which I was responding to. It's a problem I think a lot of us photographers shaped by modern Western society face.