Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Photography Forever?

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
- Aaron Siskind

It's that loving that gets to me. When I'm out on the street looking around me, it's the magnetism of the people with whom I identify that draws me to them. I return home after a time shooting on the street  and review my images - always asking myself 'what was it about this person, this scene, this situation that made me want to take the picture?' If I can't answer that, the image usually doesn't make the cut. When I can answer, the next question is 'did I get what it was that attracted me in a way that I can show other people?' If I can say 'yes' to that, I set to work.

I mention this in this blog because of the thoughts triggered by the quote by Aaron Siskind. It's how I always worked, but never articulated in this way. Occasionally I look back at the work I shot twenty years ago on film (some of my long term projects can be seen on my website here), I'm referring to  Manhattan Diaspora and I Hear A Voice Calling. In each collection every image brings back a memory of that moment when I shot it - I can sense the sounds and feel the atmosphere of the situation. Those little things like a twist of the lip, a hand gesture, a body position that speak volumes about the unfolding drama. The story is in the characters, but the lines of the dialogue are in the details.
It's the same with my street work. I don't take shots of some of my subjects because of the sensationalism (their unfortunate situation, the expression on their faces ....). I do it because eighteen years ago, when I was at my bottom because of my addictions, I was a hair's breadth away from being there myself. I knew then how it felt to be filled with anxiety and despair. I see  people who look sad or unhappy, and many who are just existing on the streets. It's such a common occurrence that most people just pass by without a glance because they've become completely inured to  it. But make an esthetically beautiful image that draws the viewer's eye into and around it to notice all the little details, and the message can come through. Make a compellingly beautiful image, and the observer will be compelled to receive the message.

I was walking across Canal Street when I saw this fellow digging through a trash can. He acted like he had struck gold in there, having found a container of partially eaten food and a cigarette butt burned only half way. In a moment his life turned from desperation into what promised to be a temporary respite from hunger. He had a reason to smile at me, and had a twinkle in his eye.