Wondering What They See

Look Up While Walking

I often wonder what the subjects of my photographs think when they see me with a camera pointing in their general direction. The optimist in me would like to think that what they see is a creative in action, someone who has somehow managed to set himself free of the daily trappings of the world in order to pursue the higher calling, that of creating photographic art. Wouldn’t that be nice. However, I’m not sure that is the case, or at least not the case in the majority of situations. I have no doubt that for some people, finding themselves on the receiving end of a telephoto lens is the functional equivalent of finding themselves unwittingly facing a weapon. Not that they think for a second that the lens will do any bodily harm to them, but rather that their selection as your subject from amongst the crowd could prove to be somewhat of a disconcerting feeling. Why me? Who is this person? Has he or she been following me? Why is that photographer so fixated on me? We could go on forever with these questions.

What the subjects of our photos may not realize is that in the vast majority of cases, photographing them is a form of flattery, of recognizing their uniqueness in a particular setting or situation. Most serious photographers are extremely selective, and when they pick a person or a place as the subject of their photos, rarely it is with the intention of accentuating something negative. Look at a site like Instagram on any day, and what will immediately jump at you is the overwhelming positive nature of the photographs. This applies to photographers of all kinds, from the casual mobile photo enthusiast to the equipment-heavy pro. And while there will always be a few rotten apples in the bunch, their numbers are absolutely minimum compared with the millions of photographers who are using the their skills to tell a happy story. With their captures what they are saying is that you, the subject of their photographic interest, are special, a key figure in a creative process, and the unique protagonist of a story in the making. The photographer may be insignificant to you, but you are not insignificant to them. In that brief fraction of a second when the shutter clicks, you immediately become an integral part of a larger photographic narrative the world is eager to see, or at the very least, should see.  The photos that will be part of that story will remind people that there is a lot more to the world than their own, limited surroundings.  They will remind them that humanity is constantly on the move in a world that is forever changing.  The photographs, like the great travel narratives, will be part of the living record of society, of its people, and of the places that occupied our imaginations and time. The necessary proof of the wonders and tribulations of the world we all lived in.

 

Shortcuts And The Modern Era

Working hard.

I should start this post by saying that I have nothing against shortcuts. In fact, I’ve spent a good part of my life searching for them, only to discover that there are very few alternatives to old-fashioned hard work available to us all. And yes, there’s the winning the lottery thing, but since that is about as probable as surviving a free fall without a parachute, I’ll disregard that particular shortcut for now. What I’m talking about is our human proclivity to try to find a shorter way to our destination, to compact time so that whatever it is that we’re engaged in, takes a lot less time than what life has already established as necessary. After all, this is the 21st Century, so why should be believe Henri Cartier-Bresson when he said that, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Don’t we get lots of “likes” in Instagram and Flickr? Isn’t that proof enough of our artistic excellence? Well, unfortunately it is not.

But something has undoubtedly changed. And that is that, in the advent of the digital revolution, fame and success are no longer so intimately tied to competence in any particular field. Call it the democratization of opportunity or whatever, but what could be happening these days is that while Cartier-Bresson may still be right in his observation, it really wouldn’t matter for a modern audience. Ever heard of Tardar Sauce? That’s the name for the famous mixed-breed Grumpy Cat that took the Internet by storm and made both cat and owners instant celebrities. No 10,000 photos were needed before the owners started cashing in on the cat’s celebrity status, and while Cartier-Bresson may be turning in his grave as a result, the cat’s photographs and paraphernalia may have achieved about as much commercial success as Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl photograph ever did. I tell you, if it were not for the eternal feeling of hope in us all, it would be enough to make you want to throw your camera away and get a cat instead. But such artistic surrender would not do anything for art in the long run. And just like in the case of the now popular gastronomic farm-to-table movement, it is every creative’s hope that the artistic excellence that they so painstakingly strived to achieve over time in their particular fields, will be similarly valued and compensated. That, at least, is the hope. But I’m afraid to ask what Grumpy Cat has to say about that.