I've been reading 'Train Your Gaze', by Roswell Angier. I find it a great read and it is giving me an other layer of meaning to photographer and my own attitude when I'm taking photos, the decisions I make of what I'm going to photograph and in what sense my own disposition and preconceived ideas play part in the end results of an image. The assignments in the back of every chapter are very challenging and I am thinking of picking a few and adding them to my blog. Looking at an image, then thinking about it and furthermore, trying to produce something in the same context or thought is very helpful and really deepens my photography skills and vision.
In chapter 3 'At the Margins: The edges of the frame', Angier discusses the intentions and seemingly relationship of the photographer and its subjects and the questions about truth and integrity that arise from that. He comes up with examples of Riis, Lange and Evans, who all went out to photograph a certain group of underprivileged people and portray their situation. Reading this question made me realize that documentary photographs give the assumption that the one taking the image has sort of stepped over in the world he is photographing, has become an expert in what he sees and that somehow the fact that he knows how to materialize his vision, gives him a better understanding of what he is seeing, or gives him more authority to show expertise about the subject through what he shows.
Of course, one might already see through the work whether a photographer has a deeper understanding of a subject, or has been photographing something for a long time, but, also referring to the earlier part of the chapter, when one speaks about a decisive moment, a photographer may just have the visual skills and a little bit of interest to make a compelling image without knowing anything about the subject. (I find the example of Lange's Migrant Mother, napalm, California, 1936) very striking.
But then, is there something wrong with that? Thinking about myself, when I go out and about to photograph a place I don't know, I'm most of all driven by my curiosity. When taking images of people, I always try to have a conversation with them and have some kind of rapport, but I realize even more that these small moments don't give me a revelation of how somebody might be. Maybe just a slight little bit in that moment of time.
The chapter continues with the discussion of 'crisis photography', in which photographers come very close and capture tragedy to the core and the approach photographers like Guy Tillim and Leif Claesson, who try to establish a discernible frame of reference and through that avoid melodrama and portraying its subjects as victims.
I still don't know where I stand in this discussion. Regarding ideas and opinions, I find myself more connected to the philosophy of Guy Tillim, on the other hand, I find that my curiosity sometimes gets me to take images that could be called voyeuristic or unethical.
This may sound really awful, but after having lived in developing countries for so long, I feel that I am not shocked by poverty at first sight anymore. If I were to take photos of poor, or underprivileged people, I would automatically want to go deeper than their outward misery. I want to know who they are, what brings them where they are and look for common things that make us humans. Because of that, maybe a person who has not had the life I'm living will look differently at my pictures, in a voyeuristic way, while I myself might have taken them in a completely different context. Or maybe my images will look different at all, mainly because I'm not interested in photographing misery in itself.
I don't know if that sounds harsh or not, I do know that I am much more hardened from the things I see, but on the other hand I feel that this hardening has helped me to look beyond the surface of poverty and maybe for a photographer, this is a good thing.