I never could have dreamed this day would come. The only thing that would top an indian (of the American variety) walking into my day in full regalia would be moving out to the reservation and going native myself. I had seen the “Native American Dance” performance slated on the schedule for our school, but for all I know, some dude in blue jeans and a dollar store head dress was going to strut in with his cultural spiel. Just because I would beat myself if it did turn out well and I was not ready, I had to scout a potential portrait location.
An elementary school cafetorium is not exactly the most inspiring backdrop for an American Indian portrait shoot, so I took a little walk behind the school as soon as I arrived that morning. Just two weeks before, I had been day dreaming in that very grassy field, which was much more tall and Great-Plains-wavy then, what it would have been like hundreds of years ago, pre white dudes. The gentle, brown sea sparked the beginning of a (most likley ill-fated) novel idea. Long story short: there is no better, close place for the potential shoot.
Then, into my cafetorium walks Tallbear. I swooned. I recovered, helped hook up the sound system, took a few shots with some tastefully 80s colored backgrounds, pondered the possibility of wrangling them into an impromptu portrait shoot, then swooned again.
Yesterday, I took the scenic route back to my parking spot. I was just running a normal errand and had my one-year-old in my arms. Sure, we accidentally parked a little too far away initially, but that had nothing to do with the scenic route. The mood, history, and culture of downtown Temple, Texas inspired us to take a slightly less direct path back to the car…just for the beauty of the moment. I was less concerned with taking photos than I was with enjoying a few extra minutes of the day. What I received was more enjoyable and eye opening than I expected.
The “Learning to See” in the title is a reference to Chris Marquardt’s Learning to See Workshops. Not that I have been to a workshop, but I have listened to his Tips from the Top Floor podcast quite a bit, and really appreciate his approach to photography. I could not agree more with his website byline: “learn to see”. How we experience life, what we notice, and the learned ability to switch perspective are key ingredients to the quality of photography we produce. I learned a lesson in learning to see on that scenic walk back to the car.
There are many aspects of photography, many different paths down which it might lead. My own path is a journey in pursuit of reality, or “true reality” as I like to call it (though I know how redundant that sounds), and with the potential of photography to freeze a moment in time, “reality” is indeed a common pursuit in photography, but not the “true reality” or the spiritual reality which lies behind, through, and all around that surface-level reality. I heard a quote that really seemed to be attempting to bridge the gap between the surface reality and the deeper and wider reality.
In the biographical documentary about James Nachtwey, War Photographer, Nachtwey said, “It’s more difficult to get publications to focus on issues that are more critical, that do not provide people with an escape from reality, but attempt to get them deeper into reality, to be concerned about something much greater than themselves.”
I have been challenged by War Photographer, a documentary film about the “anti-war” photographer James Nachtwey. As it points out, though he may have started out with at least a partial desire for the travel and adventure, he has become something of an anomaly: he is a quiet and hopeful photographer, who believes his photography can make a difference, even in such overwhelming issues as war, poverty, hunger, and disease.
He says in the film, “We must look at it, we’re required to look at it, we’re required to do what we can. If we don’t, who will?”
I just read an excellent interview with Ami Vitale by The Adventure Life. The interview, thankfully, did not focus on gear or the technical side of photography, but instead gave us a good idea of who Ami Vitale is, how she works, how she survives, and a great feel for how she covers the stories.
Is objectivity an illusion? What does objectivity mean to you? Is it something journalists should strive for? Why or why not?
[Ami Vitale said…] “Yes, I believe objectivity is an illusion but I also believe that there are a multitude of viewpoints and that no one “Truth” exists. I believe that unless we understand and give voice to these perspectives, reason remains veiled. Ignorance in each other’s stories leads us to assume we know them. It allows us to maintain perceptions of differences based on our own preconceived notions.”
Minor White, neither some funky musical chord nor a new character for Clue, was indeed a very well known photographer…though I will not pretend I knew that even a few months ago. However, I was immediately caught by a quote of his: “I photograph things for what they are and for what else they are.”
So true. How many times have we just shot and later realized we caught more than we initially thought? Or how many times have we realized there was more to a photo than met the eye, when it had that extra something? It seems Minor White just took this realization and made it a purposeful pursuit in his photography, to not only take the photo seen on the surface, but to attempt to capture that which is beyond the superficial layer of the photo.
Finally, the kind of photo I have been looking for. I have been trying to capture the spiritual side of things. I am not talking about some visually appealing monks-in-a-temple shot, but the spiritual reality behind what we see with our eyes, and I am especially focused on the spiritual realm right there on the street and a part of everyday life. In a place like Thailand, it is everywhere, woven into every part of life.