Saturday, August 9, 2014

Street Photography Point of View: Change the relationship with the people you photograph

I was, as you may know, in Malaysia recently for a month or so. I wasn't overly active on the street while there. Not sure why, but probably to do with the burnout, or hitting of walls that you have already read about. Anyway, some other changes took place, a few other insights about how I use the camera, how I go about my work, came to light while there when I did work.

I made the photograph below one day on the streets in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

To be honest, as soon as I made this photo I looked at the review image (yes, I know, I was chimping) and I was shocked. Shocked by the point of view that I had decided to make the photo from. Now, I know it's the "normal" view we make most photos from: with the camera at eye level.  Nothing wrong with that per se of course.

But, in this instance I was shocked because the woman appears to be upset, ill, or perhaps simply resting. And that gave me pause, as they say. I thought this isn't right. I am looking down on this person who appears to be in some kind of distress or at least having a private moment. Power imbalance was the phrase that occurred to me. Mind you, all this ticked over in my mind in just a few seconds. So, without further conscious thought I bent down and using the flip out LCD screen on the camera (a feature I thought I would never use when I first bought the camera), made another image from that lover point of view. Here is that image:

Kerbside Dreaming (Kuching Malaysia July 2014

While I am thinking about it, there is an excellent post that I read while thinking about this subject just a few days ago. A great discussion on the changing of perspective or point of view (or POV as it's often called). The author talks about how we struggle sometimes to come up with a new or interesting image because we so often make photographs from the same perspective, from eye level. He demonstrates how we can instantly create interest simply by changing our point of view. Getting down on one knee, finding a lower position on some steps for example and some other really worthwhile suggestions. Here's the link and I really do recommend you read the post. Very good stuff indeed. Actually the blog is full of great posts. Go there!!

I thought it was interesting that I came across that post while I was putting together my thoughts about this exact issue. Well, not quite exact really. What I am getting at here is more about the balance of power, or perhaps we can call it the terms on which the photographer and the photographee "meet".

In an instance like this one with the woman sitting on the kerb and appearing as I say to be distressed in some way, it just didn't feel right to be looking down. I had to meet her on the level she was at. Otherwise it seems to me that I am not in a truly empathetic relationship with her. Well, as empathetic as observation for a short moment allows anyway. I think you know what I mean! That looking down somehow gives a message that she is merely a subject, she is not a real person going through real human emotions. Sure, I might have recorded a photo of a woman in distress of some kind sitting on a kerb, but the final result would not have been a true partnership, a true record. At least that's the way I've been thinking

And after all my role as a street and documentary photographer is to record the truth as well and as accurately as I can. I don't intend here to think about the black and white vs color, the post processing vs out of the camera, or any other debate. After all, we all have our own ways of processing and completing photographs that we  make and that suit what we are trying to say. Anyway, for me, the second image, which is the one I chose to complete and share with the world (or the tiny portion of it that sees my work), is the more truthful and honest.

I did ask this lady if she was okay. She smiled and thanked me for asking. That's all. And I smiled and went on my way.

Peace to you all

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