Wednesday, June 11, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Some scenes just make you sad

Self Portrait for Two (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

On the face of it you might not think there is much in this image to make me or you or anyone sad. Especially, you might tell me, given the number of images we are seeing everyday of people who are homeless, people who are experiencing trauma or who are in some other way vulnerable or disadvantaged. And of course, on the face of it, you would be totally correct: images of those kinds of things are distressing and make me, and you, and most likely a lot of people, very sad. Hopefully they also serve as a call to action for some of us. Hopefully photography in that context can contribute to change.

Sadly, however, far too many of the photographs I see of homeless and other disadvantaged and vulnerable people have an aura of exploitation about them. Oftentimes for so-called street photographers, these groups provide little more than "easy targets" for a "gritty and real street shot". In reality they provide nothing more than a kind of trophy for the photographer. But that is another story for another day.

Back to this photograph, made on one of the busiest corners in the CBD of Melbourne. These two people are (obviously) making a self portrait of themselves. They are standing diagonally across the road from the beautiful and historic Flinders Street railway station. A must see for tourists to the city. 

So, what is so sad here? Surely this is simply two tourists making a souvenir photo of themselves? And they are smiling aren't they? All good questions. Again, on the face of it, nothing is untoward here. And really even not on the face of it, I can't say there is anything untoward here. 

It's just that I watched them for a while as they were setting up the camera and tripod, and then the guy arranged his partner n just the right place, set the timer and joined her on the other side of the camera, and the photo was made. As they went about this process it was as if they were in a little world of their own. The crowds flowed around them, nobody (except me) even glancing in their direction. And, more poignantly, they didn't look at anyone else either in the whole time I was watching them and then making this photograph. I was about two meters away from them for five minutes and they didn't once look my way. I am quite sure they didn't even see me.  It was if they truly were alone on this busy intersection.

There just seemed to be something sad about the whole scenario. To me anyway. A sense of loneliness took hold of me as I watched them. And, really, that's all I can say. I don't have an explanation for why I felt the way I did. I mean, I often pick up emotions, become affected by what I see and feel on the street. And it's not always possible to pinpoint what causes a feeling or a sense.

Anyway, a good street photograph is one that causes an emotional reaction in the viewer. And it could be added that an even better street photograph is one that causes an emotional reaction in the photographer. One thing I can say is this: if sometimes I do have an emotional reaction to a scene I witness, then it suggests that at least some viewers will also have an emotional response of some kind. And, to me, that is a very good outcome indeed.



  1. That is really deep, Paul. I see what you mean. It is sad that people are oblivious to what else (sights and sounds) surrounds them... I've been guilty of the same thing. The countless times that I have walked by a small coffee shop or bar that I've never noticed to before and then learning that it had been there for years always astounds me! How could I have not notice before?! The other thing about that photo is that Flinders Station doesn't form part of their background shot!

    1. Yes its amazing what we can miss. And I do tend to be deep sometimes Just my nature haha. Funny you mention tje station Idid think abot whether to try to include it but in the end it was abot yhe people and me too Thanks for reading and commenting

  2. Funny, but the picture makes me kinda happy! There you go! The commentary around subjects is also one that I am aligned with. It is just too easy and feels exploitative to take photos of some people...

    1. indeed..there you go LOL I do know what you mean about a happy response. Its what makes a photo interesting, the differing responses to it. I'm pleased though that it elicits a response! Yes, too much exploitation around. thank you for your comment!!


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