The Set Up vs. The Set Out
SPOKANE-WA, a premise for a story. If i were to claim one field of photography as preferred above the others, undoubtedly it would be that of the styled studio setup, aka food photography. there's a shocker. But the word preferred (obviously) implies the notion of preference and not of exclusiveness. What's your favorite food? I like it all. What's your favorite music? I listen to everything. How was your day? Good. Don't you hate those people. But here, let me add--when it comes to photography, there is no genre which i despise. Studio photography is night and day to field work. wait--is it? Is the photo of a flower really so different from a photo of a sleeping child? Of a styled cake? Of a swimming duck? Of a wounded soldier? Of rubble and fire? Of a foot in the goal? Of a model gazing through the lens? I really don't think so. I don't think so at all. A chef can prefer to prepare the duck, but that does not mean that he does not also love the rhythm and feeling of steaming rice, of stirring soups, or of poaching pears. on y va.
Mallory, the girl laughed, you are the perfect photographer; you're a creeper, and apparently that's what it takes to press a button. Those words have stuck with me, and often i ponder their validity; am i really a creeper? Hey wait do i actually deserve the term "photographer"? Every time i return to these questions, my thoughts return unappetizingly toward my high school photography teacher, Mrs. AA, who at the time instilled within me the greatest detestation for all things aperture, pin lighting, film speed, and film rolling. Do you know how many days straight i rolled the same practice negatives? over and over and over again until every little peg caught every tooth just right, and yet no matter how many hours extra i remained in the dark room after school hours had closed, squinting my eyes and chemically burning my hands to try and reach the 15th print of perfection, nothing was ever good enough for her. I hate photography, i remember telling my mother, this evil woman is a failed professional and wishes to take out her angst on destroying the pristine grade point averages of the non-artistic types--that would be me. But to show her who would win this battle, i challenged this detestable medium to a duel of mind versus matter. I'll show you photography. Who would have ever thought that out of detestation i could find a love. Do I owe Mrs. AA something? Nahhh. It was, like she said--a love for photography starts in the darkroom, and things develop from there.
I do indeed walk around with my camera draped around my neck, rhythmically bouncing on my chest, permanently bruising that hearty section of ribcage. Mallory do you have to have that thing out? we look like tourists. But, i stammer, but i always have it, i am naked without it, you wish me to be naked? At least i am not traipsing about in a hawaiian shirt for pete's sake. If i am awkward stumbling into a room, i no longer feel lit. Awkward? I muse, well you cannot be shy, if that's what you mean, particularly when subjects need names; hi i work for the bulletin, i just took a bunch of photos of you stuffing your face full of barbecue, would you mind giving me your full name please? Wait--the scene from Spider man comes to mind; you know the one, he's staring at the attractive receptionist with that goofy look on his face, camera swinging around his neck, and with the utmost of grace manages to blurt out "hi, i'm a photographer!" Oh no--is that, is that me? Am i spiderman? Let's not go that far. But i recall a monday morning history class--professor asks; hey i saw you crawling around up in the balconies at the church yesterday with your sniper lens, you work for the paper? Me, camera perched as per usual front and center, yes, i reply, i'm a photographer. Spidey senses away!
So, the question is, what's important to take a shot of? Is it all, worthy? The most powerful images our eyes inhale are those that strike for emotion; the photographers whose works display in such publications as the New York Times, National Geographics, and Time magazine time and time again kindle attraction through depiction of sometimes harrowing, sometimes heartwarming, images of humanity--of us, always of us or the impact of us. Photojournalists working in dangerous fields risk it all. Captors of poverty, of sufferance, of toil, of crime, of violence, of death, of heartache, and of pain are no less life preserving than say an open heart surgeon is. Living is not a requirement for preservation. Robert Capa swam with the soldiers on D-Day at Omaha Beach, French photographer to Vietnam Henri Huet lasted the war longer than any conscripted soldier--twenty years longer to be exact. Dorathea Langue waded through dust in order to capture the faces of the Great Depression. Genocide photographers such as Lynsey Addario, Pep Bonet, Colin Finlay, Ron Haviv, Olivier Jobard, Kadir van Lohuizen, Chris Steele-Perkins and Sven Torfinn traveled to Darfur to provided images to the world of travesty that no one dared to peer into the face of. Could i? Could i stare into the face of a starving child knowing full well that perhaps his last breath has been forever trapped in the circular maze of rings that form the lens of my camera. could i? Could i, like those who click for National Geographics, spend hours and hours in tick infested forests hungry and tired yet determined to capture the faces of villagers and warriors that time has forgotten; to live for the purpose so that others can see?
I then look down at my own work, is this even photography? Well, yes of course, but does it mean anything in the greater scheme? Photographing for a university newspaper is not exactly Nobel prize winning material. Your assignments range as follows: we need sunday mass photos, could you get a shot of the new security guard? Students passing in the hall please, make sure you get names. There's an article on stealing food from the dining hall--make it work. New art gallery opening down town, and there's a piano concert, we need shots of the winter play. People standing around collecting books. Students sleeping in the library. Muffin sales. The freshman picnic. Army rifle training in Idaho. And my favorite, the six am call for a shot of a sleeping homeless man, preferably under the I-90 overpass. But trumping all other calls at the university paper is that for sports. Sports. There is an event every day. Far off golf courses, five am riverboat crew sailing. Baseball. Tennis. Track meets. The volleyball court. The soccer pitch. Look at me how special and important i am with my little press pass for court access to the basketball game, what a stud. But, again, what is important enough to be photographed? All of it?
In my small town world my subjects smile back at me. They smile back at me for now. Should i not be grateful? To share their happiness instead of their grief? Would Capa have gladly traded places? I would never compare myself to the greats, in photography there is no commonalities, only eyes. I photograph what i see, and again what i don't see. Trivial perhaps in comparison to life caught by others, but that is life is it not? You cannot take anything other than what is living and given around you. Yes i am lucky for that which surrounds me is full of smiles, and dances, fashion, and games. Of course there is heartache and toil at times, and perhaps when i leave here my surroundings will change; but for now i am content with the smiles they give.
Be it a happy little cake winking back through sparkles of sugar, a baby beaming up after gigglies with her dog, or the sun sending down low golden threads on the sleepy spires of the chapel, what matters is not what you take a photo of, but how you take it.