Sunday, January 26, 2014

Growing My Photography; Part 2: Photographing People

A year ago today I arrived in South Carolina and after driving through Myrtle Beach (which I did not like,) I stopped at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell's Inlet. It was my first visit to an old plantation site. Brookgreen is one of the top gardens in the country. Paths wind amid and to various gardens. Beautiful sculptures are set at strategic points. Eventually the paths lead to trails along the river and old rice fields. There is a labyrinth by the river where I sat and wrote a poem.

Brookgreen Gardens is a wonderful place to visit and one of the places I’d like to see again. I saw, up close, my first moss-laden trees and at that point, still did not know what kind of trees they were. It was wonderful to wander the paths and trails after escaping the cold and snow of New Hampshire and even though it was winter, there were some flowers blooming. I also enjoyed that the place wasn’t crowded. I only saw half a dozen people the whole time I was there and never all in one place.

I traveled for 33 days and never took photos of people. People. I have no wish to be a portrait photographer, but there are times when I want to include humans in my works. Work cannot always be about scenery and “things.” I realized later when writing about my trip that I really missed out not having any pictures of some of the people I met. Why is it so hard for me to photograph them?

What I am finding about photography is that there are many layers. I like to use the analogy of hats. As with many aspects of life and the wearing of many hats, I also have more than one hat for photography. I look at things with a different mindset depending on what I am shooting. For instance, if I am shooting scenery to be used as prints, I am seeking certain elements; one hat. If I am considering a scene for a charcoal drawing, I have to pay attention to values and how it will transform to a drawing; a second hat.

There are other considerations in photographing people. It’s not only what I am thinking about the situation, but what they are feeling. Permissions need to be obtained. Yes, there are those out there who will take pictures anytime, anywhere, and of anybody. I personally think that’s an invasion of privacy. The only time I will consider taking a picture of someone without permission is if no one could specifically know who that person is.

Here, one hat is for my work with the InterTown Record where I am photographing people for interviews or at events. It’s important to have pictures of people in the newspaper. People like to see people in the news. There’s also the fact that people deserve to be recognized when they accomplish something or participate in an event. Most people like to have a chance to get their picture in the paper and, for the most part, newspapers are often a little grainy and the photos not real clear so any “flaws” can be blamed on the print. Usually verbal permission is okay for this and I must remember to also ask for Facebook photos as the newspaper has a page. Some people don’t mind the newspaper, but don’t want their photos on Facebook. I totally respect people’s wishes.

Hat two for portrait photography is a whole different ballgame. Permissions are given more reluctantly. “What do you want a picture of me for?” People are doubtful, leery, distrusting. My answer is, “Because someday I want to do a book of people I’ve found interesting.” Does that cut it with them? No, not really. Even in my own mind, I struggle with this, but I do find many people totally fascinating. There’s something in their demeanor, facial expressions, body language. At this part, it isn’t about them personally and that’s hard to explain without sounding insulting. It IS about them and it isn’t. And here, there could possibly be yet another hat with the second for photography of a person with a generic title like “Woman Thinking” and the third for photos with the person’s name and a bit of a story about them.

So, what’s the problem? Many don’t like photos of themselves. They think they look horrible in pictures. Granted, not everyone is movie star beautiful, but there is character and life to a person. I used to say, “If there are no photos of you, who will know you were here?” But often they stubbornly believe the picture will be awful. It’s that whole skewed notion of what we are taught about beauty. I see beauty in many things that others do not. As a matter of fact, I prefer taking pictures of older people. Yes, I’ve done some nice shots of children, especially the grandchildren, but there’s something about older people. There’s more character in their faces. There’s years of life experience. It’s also about capturing an essence… again, hard to explain.

I prefer that people not look directly at the camera nor do I like side shots. Profiles are not usually flattering.  I will hold my arm out to the side and tell them to look towards my hand. I want to capture a moment and although there is a bit of a pose because of sitting for the camera, I want a natural look. I also don’t think it necessary for the subject to always be smiling. I like the contemplative looks.

It’s important to get a good picture. If not, I will not keep it. I see people as beautiful. It’s also about accepting who we are. THIS is who I am and this is what I look like! I want to be accepted as I am and I believe in accepting others as they are.

So my goals are to:
1. Take courage and approach people; learn how to talk to them; ask to photograph them
2. Be able to explain, convince that I mean well and I am respectful
3. Allow that there will be refusals (which I am okay with and I already do this)
4. Remember to get written permissions
5. Take more people pictures for the someday book

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