We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless. —Lech Walesa
I seriously hesitated before choosing this morning’s pictures. These pictures were taken on the Tipster’s third birthday. Today, we celebrate her sixth. She’s grown a lot, changed a lot, but those eyes are still as dark as midnight and that expression on her face is still a mixture of happiness and curiosity and sheer mischievousness. Despite all that, though, when I might have had opportunity to take her picture again yesterday, on exactly the same perch where these were made, I didn’t. My excuse was that I’d left my camera inside and didn’t want to risk leaving the kids in the yard by themselves, not even for the few seconds it would have taken to get the camera. The real reason, though, was one of a different caution: I didn’t want anyone to see me taking pictures of a child without her mother present.
The reality of being a photographer in 2016 forces us into making those decisions that we really don’t want to make. Despite all the advances in technology, despite all the court cases upholding photographers’ rights, despite all the precautions we might take to avoid any indication of wrongdoing, too often we find ourselves not even bothering to take out the camera rather than risk our intentions being misunderstood.
I read a beautiful, if not somewhat altruistic, article yesterday about “Photography For Photography’s Sake.” Photographer Eric Kim gives a very noble look at the real reason we are photographers: the love of taking pictures. It’s not the money (what money?), nor the chance at fame, nor even the chance to get free gear (if one is willing to play that game) that drives us, but rather the thrill that comes when we capture that perfect (for now) image that makes us feel good about our place in the world and our ability to document life on this planet, creating beauty, permanently capturing the temporal. Being a photographer is a wonderful profession even without the occasional perks.
Despite all the pat-on-the-back positivity, though, the same website carried an article about Greek tourists being harassed, one even having their phone taken, because their intentions were misunderstood by a group of overly-aggressive mothers. The tourists were taking pictures of a fountain, the kind that shoots up jets of water from a concrete surface. There are hundreds of them in the US, but this one happened to be in Southend, Essex. Like most every other similar fountain, children were playing in the water. The mothers mistakenly assumed that anyone taking pictures of the fountain must be paedophiles and confronted the shocked tourists. One of the mothers even posted on Facebook that she had “busted a paedophile ring.” In fact, she had done no such thing. She had merely ruined someone’s vacation. All three tourists were quickly cleared by police of any wrongdoing, but the stigma holds.
Misunderstanding about why we do what we do, the increasing lack of respect given to our profession, makes it extremely difficult at times to enjoy what we do. While we may want to take pictures simply for the love of taking pictures, there are too many times when we stop and have to second-guess whether the picture we might consider taking is worth the potential trouble it may cause. This current environment of distrust impedes our creativity and casts dispersions on our intentions despite the fact we’ve done nothing wrong.
In some cases, that lack of trust results in open hostility that makes being a photographer dangerous. One prominent presidential candidate has even gone so far as to corral photographers at his campaign rally, encouraging others to “beat them up,” and even laughing when one falls or gets hurt. While this example may seem extreme in the same sense that this candidate’s entire campaign is extreme, it is indicative of just how hostile the world has become toward people who carry cameras.
While I would very much like to ignore that hostility and walk around taking pictures of this and that all day long, I don’t. Not only is there the general suspicion with which we have to deal, there are alleged colleagues who would superimpose an unrealistic sense of perfection not only upon their work but everyone else’s. For them, no photograph is worthwhile so long as the slightest flaw exists. The eyes have to be in just the right position and the “catch” in a person’s eyes has to be in just the right place and there has to be the perfect number of hairs blowing across her face and they have to be the perfect length and if everything is not perfect then the photo is worthless. Sorry, I don’t consider that photography. What we capture is imperfect because life and the world is imperfect and the beauty of it all is found in the imperfections.
What few seem to realize is that every time a photographer is challenged about their work, despite whatever noble or seemingly righteous intentions on may have, we ultimately second guess why we are photographers in the first place. Are we photographers just because we love the act of taking pictures or are we photographers despite an aggressive society that fails to understand the artistry and beauty we find in everything.
The weather forecast for this afternoon is pleasant enough that I’ll likely let the kids play in the yard, and if I do then maybe, just maybe I’ll consider taking another photo of the birthday girl. Kat still won’t be home, such is the downside of being a responsible adult, but perhaps I’ll take the risk anyway. Both kids make great subjects and I know our immediate neighbors know I’m a photographer and won’t give our activities a second thought. I’ll still worry about those passing by. Will someone call the police or child protective services? Will someone stop and try to challenge what I’m doing? But maybe I’ll enjoy taking pictures just because, despite all the risk.