The Listening Series

Taking photos of people is delicate work.  

There isn't so much danger for a photographer, but for someone who sits for a photo, (particularly for someone who isn't a professional model) it is a vulnerable experience.  In some ways I've blocked that out of my mind because for a photographer, the job is intense enough without that weight.  Do we have the right light? Is everyone on time? Are my 22 batteries all charged? Do I have the correct modifiers?  Do I know where I'm going, and will my contact be there? Of all these concerns, many times except for the most basic concerns, the comfort of a subject is not high on the priority list.  Even less, my understanding of their story.  

While writing my best of 2016 blog, I stumbled upon a realization as I was writing.  A camera serves as a shield.  In fact I've kept it up at the expense of knowing almost anything about my subjects.  This gets work done, and allows me to make photos, but I'm not sure that it allows me to make portraits.  To me, a portrait is made through a connection.  It can be as simple as putting the camera down and asking questions.  So that's what I did.  I recruited 10 volunteers to meet with, and simply put the camera down.  I planned to ask them 3 questions.  

1. How did you grow up?

2. What is a good memory you have? 

3. What is something you miss?  

After 1 or 2 people, I realized that the first question could simply open the communication by itself.  As it turns out, people generally are happy to tell a story to someone who is actually listening (as I have failed to do so many times), and the stories were wonderful. People are so much more interesting when you are interested.  After a while, I found my camera and took a few simple photos, or photos that i thought they would enjoy, sometimes while they told me a story and that was that. 

I was thinking of a clickbait headline for this project.  "Photographer asks questions, and what he found will change everything!".  That would be a good way to both cheapen and complicate a thing that was neither cheap, nor complicated.   It was a simple exercise, and I learned simple but important things.  We all want to be heard, and we all have much more depth than we are able to show on a regular basis.  It's refreshing to share that depth on occasion, and it's important to share it with the right people.  We need face to face time with people who listen.  That transcends photography.