The Big Q
“David, I’m an avid reader of your blog. Further, I cannot wait to get my hands on your book as a source of inspiration. I’ve read all of the available excerpts and am hungry for more. 🙂
I’m curious, how much directing do you have to do when out shooting. In other words, are all of the scenes in your book, or in general, candid, or are some of them posed? This might make a good blog post, unless of course, it’s already in the book. It’s just something that I’ve wondered about when I see great photography with pictures of people in it.” – Paul.
The Big A
First, thanks for the kind worlds, Paul. Frankly, I can’t wait to get my hands on the book either. I should be getting one of the first copies off the press and FedEx could be arriving at any moment with a book with ink still wet!
Yes, this is answered in some part in the book, but perhaps not so directly. I think my images are a real mixed bag of candids, and portraits. The candids and street photography are, by nature, un-directed. The portraits, well that’s a mix too but there are certainly times when I will direct things. If you look at my work for World Vision, those are commercial images. Real children in real situations, with real animals. But I do what I need to in order to get the right angle, the right light, and other considerations. For example, if a dress or article of clothing is torn in such a way that it is immodest, I’ll safety pin it. My work isn’t journalistic and the client has policies surrounding issues of child-protection, so I do what needs to be done to get an image which is beautiful, honest, and complies with the clients’ needs.
I think what is often forgotten is that almost any presence on our part, and especially when there is interaction, is a directoral interference of some sort. And beyond that we chose our angle, our lens, our apertures, etc. So I assume I’m involved in process that’s already pretty invasive in terms of the “Is this real or posed?” question. The answer, even when the image took some work to get, even some posing, is – I hope – yes. Yes, it’s posed, but also real. Increasingly I’m shying away from images that are so camera-aware, increasingly I’m chasing portraits, both formal and posed, where there are less smiles, finding other expressions, possibly deeper ones even.
I think what’s important to remember is that if you endeavor to create images that are honest, respectful, and kind, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s more a question of taste, and what you’re trying to do with your images. (Unless you’re a photojournalist, and then your ethics force you – I hope – to a tighter standard)
Beyond that initial question is one of that addresses the How. How do you work with subjects in different languages, from different cultures, and get them to collaborate with you? The answer is this: with patience, a sense of humour, and often great difficulty.
My experience is that people are pleasers and when you point a camera at them, no matter if it’s your uncle or a man in Africa, they’ll start re-arranging things – from the expression on their face, to the tea-cup on the table that was in the absolute perfect spot. You want them to move an inch, they move a foot. You want them to ignore you, they pose and give you a thumbs-up. I can’t solve this one for you. But here’s what you don’t do: you don’t freak out, get impatient, mutter things under your breath, or do anything but treat them with patience and kindness. Remember, if you turn to a friend and say “Aw nuts, he moved the tea-cup. I was really stupid to even suggest it” – the man who speaks no English probably still knows the word “stupid” – and he hears “mumble, mumble, mumble STUPID mumble mumble,” and thinks you mean him. Not cool. I learned this in a humbling fashion from a kind man in Africa.
Be careful. Be flexible. Be patient. The people we meet and photograph are not theme park mascots, they have the right to say no, and the right to mess up your photograph with the best of intentions.At the risk of sounding overly self-promotional, there’s a longer discussion of these kinds of issues in my book, if the subject interests you.
The Big Q is your chance to drop a question in my lap. As I get busier and busier, this may be your best chance to have the question answered. Leave your Qs in the comments.