Monday, February 22, 2010

The Trouble With People

Sur La Plage, 2009

I don’t take a lot of pictures of people. I don’t dislike people. Most of my best friends are people. I’ve become a pretty sociable guy over the years. And as I think about it, I guess I’ve taken my fair share of pictures with people in them. But I didn’t start out that way, and I still find people to be something of a nuisance when I’m taking pictures. There are several reasons for this:

I’m shy. The more I learn about them, the more I learn that shyness is a very common trait among photographers. For a lot of us, a camera was a ticket out of teenage social isolation. It gave us a reason to be places. We weren’t the boisterous extroverts in our classes when we were kids. We were the observers. I don’t know if there are deeper explanations, like maybe that we didn’t know ourselves well enough or weren’t confident enough in our own instincts to act upon them. Maybe we had to look to others to see how we were supposed to be.

(There are exceptions, of course. I think a lot of the people who photograph celebrities are more naturally voluble. They have to be more brazen to move among their subjects as closely and confidently as they do.)

People move. I frequently photograph passing phenomena, compositions of light and shape that last little longer than the moment I captured with my camera. There’s nothing like a good “decisive” moment ruined by people moving in or through it. That’s the trouble with people. I know I should be better about this. My tendency, though, is to keep moving, to keep working the light and the angles. Getting good people moments requires sitting still and being patient. I’ve learned this lesson, but I don’t follow it enough.

I don’t want to intrude. Part of being shy is not wanting to intrude on people’s time, space and life. Maybe we believe there’s something to the old adage that taking a picture of someone steals a minute of his or her life. I don’ t know. In any event, observers don’t intrude. We’re too polite. We stand around the edges and watch. It’s our job to watch the life of the party, not be it.

I’m too lazy to carry model releases. If you want to sell a picture with people in it for most any commercial purpose, you need a model release. I have them safely tucked away in my office. I’ve even carried them with me from time to time. But the act of asking someone to sign one seems to cross a line I’m not comfortable with.

So the bottom line is this: unless you’re related to me or have asked me to take your picture, I’ll probably ask you to step out of the line of fire. Most of the people you see in my pictures will be in profile, out of the light, have their backs turned to me or be otherwise unidentifiable.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I love these 2 who made it into this shot: wonderful.

    In fact, I was taking a lunch break, and all set to eat some ginger snap cookies, but after looking at this shot, I'm going to resist that urge.