Seeing & Looking
Cowbells clang. Drums boom. Fancy dancers whirl. Costumed dancers gyrate with coordinated, frenetic energy.
Five junkanoo groups from Eleuthera that rushed Governor's harbor were assembling their floats and costumes. The Savannah Sound Lucayans, Harbour Island's Barracks Hill Warriors, New Vision from Rock Sound, The Unity Builders, and the Harbour Boys from Governor's Harbor. Junkanoo is quintessentially Bahamian.
Travel is ephemeral and filled with singular experiences. I may only turn around this corner, at this time, in this place, just once. These inimitable moments are a singular combination of many alignments, perhaps like a number series that unlocks a safe. In these best moments, the "who, what, where, when and why" all come together in sync to open into a photograph.
ENGAGE WITH EMOTIVE EMPATHY
But here is the thing: we can Engage with Empathy. When we are open and confident, we greet other passersby. When we joyfully engage with another person, in that unique moment, making a photographic portrait seems a natural conclusion to our interaction. Nat. Geo. photographer Greg Kahn asked us to explore something unfamiliar, when "spontaneous adventures often lead to unexpected images." I believe we might go a bit deeper than exploring. We might practice emotive empathy.
What is Emotive Empathy? Simply, it's our abilities to recognize, share in, and guess our subject's emotional state. At a more complex level, we begin to guess what another person is thinking, how they feel about us taking their picture. We do this amazing feat, it seems, without thinking. Not so. There is lightning fast thinking going on, we are just not aware if it.
While, we are often sympathetic about someone's viewpoint, or believe we know the way they feel ("I feel you" "I know what you mean"), emotive empathy tries to go deeper. While it takes focus to maintain, emotive empathy is a worthwhile practice.
What does this mean for travel photography? It means, when we meet others at a Bahamian festival, or elsewhere, to attempt to share the emotions of another person by listening, smiling, being open and not judging, and perhaps reflecting back how I believe someone might feel before I frame and make their portrait. These are just a few of the roots of engaged emotional empathy.
What does engaging mean? It means being charismatic, and open to the unfamiliar. On the street at a chaotic event like Junkanoo, it means staying loose, smiling first at someone even if they don't look approachable, and making first contact to reach out. When I do these gestures, others see me as safer and more approachable, most of the time. As a result, the photography begins conversationally instead of in the way we often see the press aggressively photographing a notable person.
Photographing, I chose 50 and 20 mm lenses. The wide angle lens make me get closer. When the drums were a full volume, I gestured and smiled before moving in with a DSLR. Only one subject, a boy of 8 dressed in costume, refused to allow a portrait. I praised him to his uncle, saying that his saying "No" was good because it said he was the boss. The festival continued on into the Eleutheran night.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages