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?