Reading this blog, most of my friends and family are going “…Oh. That’s interesting.” in a don’t-make-her-feel-bad tone of voice. But ya’ll are really thinking “Why the $#@*& would anyone want to read about THAT??” So I’ll tell you a little bit about how I came to this project, and why I think it might be interesting. And then I’ll go back to talking about food, bikes, and weather, I promise.
I like taking pictures. I wouldn’t call myself a “photographer” per say, but I’ve always really liked taking pictures. I got my first camera when I was in 2nd grade or so… I won it for selling a lot of wrapping paper in one of those school fundraisers. It was teal. 110 mm film. Wind-up. Nice.
It even had a flash!
My mom always told me that I should take pictures with people in them, because they’d be more interesting. But I don’t know… I never really liked taking pictures of people. I guess I was afraid, or shy, or something.
It bugged me that everyone always looked the same in all of the pictures… “smile and say cheese!” produces this deer-in-the-headlights look. And people don’t really look like that, in real life.
So my first 10 rolls of film were of my cats, dogs, and Barbie’s wedding (and a lovely wedding it was). And then the camera got taken away.
The next time I remember taking pictures was on a fieldtrip to Williamsburg in fifth grade. Following Mom’s advice this time, there were people in every shot. People in front of dried animal skins. People in front of cannons. People in front of a really old tree. I wouldn’t say that the pictures were more interesting, exactly… but they were something.
The frozen, “if- you- make- me- smile- one- more- time- I’ll- kill- you” looks on peoples’ faces are just timeless, let me tell you.
Needless to say, I didn’t want to take pictures of people any more after that trip than I did before. And shortly after, digital photography came into being and I was no longer admonished for “wasting film.” I could take as many pictures of rocks, trees, and water as my little heart desired! And wow… did I ever.
Except for the times I traveled with my mom, all of my photos from trips taken in high school are of inanimate objects.
I didn’t get much better in college. I studied abroad my sophomore year, and nearly all of my photos were taken while I was hiking in the mountains. And, shock and amazement, they’re all landscapes. I like those photos. They’re nice. They’re on my wall, you can go see them if you’d like.
But the images that are burned into my memory are the ones I didn’t capture on film (er… in pixels? On a memory chip?). And they’re the ones with people in them.
I will never ever forget sitting in a dirt-floored schoolhouse in a squatter village in El Petén, Guatemala, when one of the afternoon rainstorms started up. We all sat around, with the rain pelting the tin roof, exchanging jokes and comparing which groups were most frequently made fun of in each of our cultures (blonds are a common denominator in Guatemala, Honduras, and the USA). As the laughter petered out, our ten-year-old guide got up and stood in the doorway, just staring out at the rain, as we all waited for it to die down. I don’t know what it was about that image, but I’m still kicking myself for not bringing my camera that day.
Somehow, I felt that walking around taking snapshots would have been disrespectful. Would it have? I really don’t know. My Honduran colleague had her little digital point-and-shoot with her, but I felt funny taking pictures of strangers. Particularly when I was a foreigner in every sense of the word.
Taking a more formal photo class this year made me realize that—hey! I really like taking pictures of people! Especially candids… no frozen smiles, thank you. Nevertheless, all of my photos are of people I know, and usually when they didn’t know I was taking their picture (heh- sorry guys!).
So my larger “guiding questions” all relate to the above little anecdote. How do people take pictures of other people? Especially, how do people take pictures of “the Other”? But then, how do we take pictures of ourselves, and our families? Why do we find pictures of other people so fascinating (take, for example, the appeal of National Geographic)? And what messages do they convey in our individual interpretations? And even more broadly: how does the “nature of photography” lend itself to these interpretations?
As a side note—I’m not out to critique anyone, or anyone’s photos. Everyone uses the medium as they see fit, which is clearly an individual choice. And I’m certainly not one to judge someone’s artistic choices. I just think it’s interesting that there is such a huge variety within the medium, and such a wide variety of uses and interpretations of photos.
So there ya go. See, not so random a choice for a project, right?
And, because I promised her I’d say this:
You were right Mom. Pictures with people in them are more interesting.