what sort of world?

Those of you who know me best will have been aware of the irony behind my foray into street photography:  I hate having my photograph taken.  I can be immensely private.  Unless I am preaching, teaching or otherwise engaged in a public role, I hate being watched and quite often long for an invisibility cloak.  All of which is to say:  I have no desire to invade other people’s privacy or make them feel uncomfortable.

But still, I think this business of street photography is important.

I value a world in which photography can help us to see.  Good photo-journalism has changed and deepened our understanding of the world, and good street photography — whether for art or for journalism — can express the reality of a moment more clearly than any number of words.

I don’t pretend that that is what I am doing when I take photographs.  I haven’t the skill.  But I do think that by looking more carefully, we learn to see.  As I sought photographs, I was much more engaged with the people around me.  I noticed more.  I laughed more.  I liked the people around me more, and was better aware of our shared humanity.

That happens when I look at photographs too.  If you think of famous street photographs, they are usually striking not only for their composition and light, but for the truths they express of the human condition.  Sometimes those truths are painful, but I’ll say again what I said in the last post:  our dignity is not reduced by the presence of vulnerability or pain.

I got into an interesting conversation with someone about the ethics of the photograph taken of Phan Ti Kim Phuc, the little girl who was fleeing naked from a napalm attack in Vietnam.  One possibility is that the photograph exploits her: a private terror is exposed in a most inhumane way.  Another possibility is that it gives her back her strength:  in a war in which her life was deemed unimportant, we see her and our hearts cry out to share her pain.  I lean toward the latter view. I don’t think the photograph degrades her.  I think it reveals that she is human, and that is a noble and a beautiful thing.

2 thoughts on “what sort of world?”

  1. As proved with the little girl in Vietnam, some of the most iconic photographs are candid, spur of the moment, or taken unawares. Sometimes posed pictures are too staged and their real meaning is destroyed. The VJ photo of the nurse and sailor kissing in Times Square portrays the freedom felt by those involved in the war, and the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt claims never to have found out who they were. They remained anonymous, but, went on to be hung on many, many walls throughout the world.

    Candid/street photography, for me, is the most beautiful and truthful. Animals pose rarely, unless its a cat! There is always beauty.

    Perhaps it is because I too hate having my photo taken and would love to find somewhere that stocked invisibility cloaks that I would far rather have my photo taken ‘off the cuff’ (although they are not always flattering, it captures the moment). After all, how many photos do we all appear in by accident?

  2. I was thinking about the sailors too. And cats. I did wonder about the ethics of otter photography after all this…

    as for photos of me, I’m with you: I would rather not know they are being taken, and then watch them gleefully deleted afterwards once we see how bad they are. (which reminds me: did someone finally destroy those horrid photos of me taken on the last First Friday?)

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