A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Wonder how long it took people to get over the shock of the first photographs, the exact replication of the human image? Was it eerie? Did people feel that something forbidden had been accomplished? Did they indeed feel as if their soul had been stolen? Now most people don’t mind being photographed but they are obsessed with appearing a certain way and spend a lot of time getting ready to pose with the result that they often look stiff and forced. Even I, who photograph others constantly, become self conscious when I am the subject of the photograph. The preoccupation with self is a strange thing indeed. I once took a photo of a Buddhist monk in Danang. Before I photographed him he insisted on straightening his robes and making sure that he looked like the perfect monk. His intent, I believe, to become one among many and his anxiety not about his individual representation.
When I do street photography these days I use a 300 mm lens so people don’t know they’re being photographed. I don’t do this in order to get away with something but to catch people unaware. The moment people see a camera pointed at them, even if they don’t mind, everything changes. They lose their spontaneity. They lose the wonderful loose look of being content in their own skin.
There were times — in Washington Square Park, at Venice Beach — when I was able to get close to people with a short lens without them minding. In both those places there is a sense that everyone is performing anyhow which makes it okay. And if they are enjoying themselves the photo comes out fine.
True, when I photograph, I am taking something from somebody. My intent is entirely benevolent. Photography to me is a celebratory practice. Not so with my writing. My writing can be quite critical of people, but since there is the mediation of language, most people don’t care. Unless, of course, they recognize something of themselves in what I’ve written and then they are more upset than if I took their photograph.
Text and photographs copyright 2016 Doug Anderson. All rights reserved.