Friday, June 22, 2007

Frustration with Photographs: Trying to Capture the Problems

Out of the hundreds of photographs I have already taken, I can count on one hand the ones that I am absolutely in love with. There are many that are interesting and well composed, but I am having issues with variety and with my subjects. I have hundreds of photographs now of happy smiling children, which i love, but i really want to capture the problems that are occurring, the problems that the students are trying to fix. There is a lot for us to learn from these communities which I will now refer to as "camps" versus "slums" (this term is less degrading and seems to be what the community members refer to them as), but there is a lot that we can do to help them out as well. They may be content, but they are still living in their own feces, suffering from Malaria, malnutrition, diabetes, anemia, angina, and so much more. (I will talk more about this in the next post to avoid one insanely long post.)

Capturing the problems that exist on camera is proving to be very difficult because (1) the people are so smiley and happy, (2) they're even more excited because of my camera and the foreigner in their midst, (3) the problems that this group is investigating is the effectiveness of the NGO, Deepalaya in providing education and healthcare to these communities, (4) many of the diseases that these community members do not have visible symptoms, and (5) the visibly sick children seem to be kept inside when we are around, only coming out if we stay in one place for a longer period of time...

Every time I have my camera out, everyone gets even more excited and even strike poses.. I consulted B.D., a previous photojournalism professor of mine and he suggested that i just need to stay with them and keep shooting until they get bored and then i can get the pictures of them actually doing stuff rather than posed shots... unfortunately because i don't have the freedom to move around on my own, this is difficult to do. Pete, a friend of mine from MIT, recommended that I use a long lens to "snipe" photographs from a distance so that I could get the community members in their natural setting. However, this is also difficult due to me sticking out like a sore thumb and obstructions such as wires, low power lines, laundry drying outside, random branches, and the like.

The last 2 communities that I've visited (today and yesterday… more on that later) have had many more sad eyes.. some that are so heartwrenching that its difficult to take a photograph of them as they look up at me in tears. I have not been able to cut out my feeling of impoliteness and completely just let go of any inhibitions, something that is necessary to get the most moving photographs at times. I am working on trying to take photographs of these subjects after making eye contact with them and getting a nod or a movement from them that indicates they understand and will not mind if I take their photograph. I find it difficult especially to shoot older community members because I do feel like I am invading their privacy or taking advantage of their poverty situation for the sake of my project. I am consoled to a certain extent because my purpose for this project is not to make money or to get fame, as I am getting neither, but rather to educate others about the issues and to motivate them to help fix these problems. Still, I was raised to show respect to my elders, mostly speaking when I’m spoken to (unless I’m very comfortable with them), and putting them on a bit of a pedestal, not to be treated as I would treat my peers. When speaking to many other photographers, they explain that respect is necessary, but that you have to just take the photograph and show that you respect them despite having taken a photograph of their life, rather than first getting their ok. This is an ethical issue that I have always struggled with and find harder to deal with because of the language barrier. When my subjects speak English, I am more comfortable snapping a photo without their initial permission because then I can explain to them and win them over with my (hopefully existent) charm… but with the language barrier, I don’t want to offend them and leave them feeling that way...

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