Paint a photo with words


I enjoy photography. I love looking at pictures that capture moments in time. I get a thrill peering through the viewfinder of my SLR. Where the laughter of children does nothing for me, the “click” of my shutter brings incomparable joy.

Walking down the street I sometimes see things within the rectangle of a frame and my brain catalogues it. I take a million mental pictures a day, storing them away for another time. I could spend hours going through images of places and faces as mysterious and as ambiguous to me as black holes. Being in Nepal, the memory card in my head is full of shots of poverty and the light my heart shines on it brings out the blinding darkness of the situation. Walking down the street the harsh reality is inevitably exposed, which then makes me question whether it is “okay” for me to shoot what I see.

My best friend and I had a conversation about the ethics of photography. Is it alright to photograph someone’s lack of dignity? My wise friend mentioned she understood photos have the power to change lives – but of the thousands of pictures taken to “show the world”, of the images splattered across the net, in magazines, and in books, how much (if any) of the revenue goes back to the grandfather huddled under a tattered blanket? What about the mother holding a shriveled palm out? What of the child clutching a sordid doll?

Though I too see the “beauty” in pain, my artistic eye doesn’t give me permission to take someone’s life and keep a permanent snapshot in hues and light as I see fit. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but a lot of times, isn’t photographing people an invasion of their privacy? Would anyone want their mud stained feet and scarred-by-life eyes to be displayed so people could look at them and state, “That’s so sad.”

Would you want pity?

So far, I have a difficult time raising my lens and focusing on gritty hair, snotty nose, and dead eyes of the people spread on the streets. So far the human in me isn’t capable of seeing other people merely as pictures, but when I write, when I choose my words oh-so-carefully, when I still paint pictures of dismal lives through my words, is what I’m doing any better?

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3 comments
  1. i know exactly what you mean.

    i think that’s why so many “third world photographers” take shots of children. i used to just go click click click … but now i don’t take shots of people or their lives … i used to feel no hesitance at taking a shot of the inside of someone’s tattered excuse for a house (by our “privileged” standards), but now i stick to the terrain and the scenery … the children though huddle around and some ask right out for me to take a picture, others are shy. but even then, i wonder, what happens when they are older or when they realize their faces will be up on some random stranger’s screen … but then what is a photo without the people that make the place?

  2. Sniper said:

    I guess, for the photographer it can be an award-winning picture, for the subject (mired in poverty) just every-other passing moment in their destiny. The way I see it, the types of picture (… and words) that you have mentioned can (should…..??) make the “privileged-ones” guilty of their own extravagant existences. But whom am I kidding…?? Sadly, we live in a selfish, power-mongering contemptuous world; thankful & confident that they are not and will never be in those pictures (of poverty) for generations.

  3. I know right? Ideally the content of these pictures would move people, but unfortunately it appears humans are more cold hearted than I’d like to believe and it’s all too common to see people walk right by without even noticing the hand raised to them in hope for compassion. But I can’t judge, all I do is offer a weak smile hoping they feel the human-to-human connection but for all I know they see me mocking their poverty.

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