One of the things I struggle most with is a sort of photographer’s guilt. It’s like I believe the old mythology that my camera steals some piece of my subjects’ souls. Ruth Kaplan even busted me for it at the portrait workshop I went to in July, when she saw how uncomfortable I was directing my workshop partner/subject. She was clearly looking to me for direction, but I didn’t want to intrude on her. I figure I have to options: either get over it or stop photographing people, and the latter just isn’t an option for me. So I’m working on getting over it. I’ve recently discovered quotes from other photographers that will help me.
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I quite enjoyed the recent focus on African photographers over at conscientious. It started with a link to an article about Pieter Hugo, which stood out to me for his response to the charge that he is exploiting his subjects for their otherness:
‘I reject that view utterly,’ he says, suddenly angry. ‘There’s always an element of condescension in it, the notion that the people I photograph are somehow not capable of making their minds up about being photographed. And, you know, it always comes from white, liberal, European people, which suggests to me that there is something essentially colonial about the question itself.’
He takes a deep breath. ‘Look, there is always permission when I take a photograph, and there is always an exchange, emotional or financial. I paid these guys because I was taking up time when they could have been working or travelling.’
Last week, I also came upon this interview with Nevada Wier. “‘I think the most important thing is feeling comfortable with the actual act of photographing people,’ she says. ‘I’ve found, in teaching, that often people feel shy or intrusive, or that it’s rude. — In order to photograph people, you can’t feel that way. I sincerely believe that photographing someone is a compliment. It’s a sign that you find someone interesting.’”