Seeing & Looking
“You don't take a photograph. You ask, selfieless, to borrow it.”
When we get our first camera and start making pictures, we may first learn about the machine in our hands, and gain tactile knowledge of what buttons to push. We learn, hopefully, ways to frame a picture. We learn to take better pictures.
Along the path, we let go of rules. But what makes us better photographer? And, is that enough...isn't it helpful to be better human beings along the way.
There is an unexpected solution. It has to do with how we think as we relate to other people. Pridelessness is a practice that is as essential as framing.
Listening to photographers talk about their own work, we often hear the word “Great.” We might hear: “I took some great stuff this morning . . . I haven't had time to process...” Then there is this: “Wow, what a great shot.”
I believe such pretentiousness can lead to entitlement. I've been guilty of this too. Now, I am working to become aware of changing this. Go down the path of "great" and the danger is that a sense of photographer superiority will appear. In the past, I've felt entitled to get a shot, and been so impatient to do so, that I created an angry encounter. Instead, I might have invested in and been curious about, the people in the event.
So what is this solution? Genuine humility, like the calm after a hurricane passes, can dispel a sense of superiority. If as photographers we spend most of our time in self-promotion, hype and being “great,” we may lose the ability to be humble. Now, I'm not talking about self-abasement. Here, humility is used in the sense of being un-selved, liberated from a sense of self, prideless.
Studying and listening to pro photographers, I've learned from some that they picked up a specific ability over their careers. Learning how to shoot famous people who are stars of web and screen, these pros mastered ways of letting go of their own stuff to get the results they wanted, and some deus ex machina images they could not have planned. Why? They knew how to collaborate. For example, Annie Liebovitz, a remarkable photographer, learned to work closely with the stars she photographed on film, when she worked for Vanity Fair.
Liebovitz's humility did not mean she lacked personality, in fact, she was able to take a humble approach to her subject and be personable. She grasped how to work with movie stars and those who, like Diane Keaton, truly disliked being photographed. To work with strong personalities, Annie Liebovitz learned to let go of controlling the situation.
Working with teams of support talent, many of her better images emerged in the context of this collaboration. Yes, it truly matters with whom you surround yourself.
All photographers can practice the subtle art of being prideless.
The photographer Dorothea Lange also understood the nature of collaboration. She wrote: “I never steal a photograph. Never. All photographs are made in collaboration, as part of their thinking as well as mine.” Now, was Dorothea Lange always perfect in her collaboration? No.
A persuasive case can be made that Lange, in one documented instance, was far less than collborative in Nipomo, California in 1936, when she took seven images in ten minutes on black and white film of Florence Owens Thompson. However, the encounter that led to “Migrant Mother” was not typical of the interactive, deeper ways that Lange typically portrayed her subjects.
We're all human, and we make mistakes.
I photograph daily. Each time I go out, I'm aware that I know only a little about photography. There is an infinite sky above, and photography is a vast ocean of knowledge. There are large areas of photograph to which I am unaware. So, there is a lot of room to grow.
Three Ideas for Prideless Photography:
“No matter that we may mount on stilts. We still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” de Montaigne
More on humility in photography: https://www.apogeephoto.com/photographers-mind-curiosity-humility/
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages