Thoughts on travel photography, part 2

Continuing on from Part 1 –

Photographing the photographers

As mentioned in part 1, I often found myself during this tour drawing away from the group when I felt their attention on a subject was becoming either too intrusive or too lengthy. It is not a problem when taking images of people working in the fields, or going about their daily business, but I feel it can become an issue when photographers see an opportunity, agree with the subject that they can take their photo, and then move in close, or are joined by other photographers. I suspect there is a great deal of theory relating to The Gaze behind each of these situations, but I will leave that for another day. In the meantime, I sometimes found myself taking pictures of the group’s activities, rather than involving myself in an interaction which I felt was becoming oppressive. Here are a couple of examples below.

The photographer/subject transaction

This leads me on to considering how we look at or interact with other people as photographers. There is a temptation to think of the camera as a protective cloak, putting distance between us and our subjects, making ourselves invisible behind the camera, and giving us an automatic permission to intrude into their lives. Although at the beginning of this post, I said I would look at The Gaze later, it seems inevitable that it should be considered as part of this transaction, and so I referred to Chandler’s Notes on the Gaze. It’s a complex subject, which I need to research in more detail, and Chandler identifies a number of different form of gaze. However, when applied to travel/street photography, they don’t seem strictly applicable and so I have identified a number of different interactions which I observed myself. (I am sure someone has written about this, but I haven’t found a text so far).

Unknowing – the subject is unaware of the camera’s gaze.

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Instrusive/dissenting – the subject knows they are being photographed and dislikes or resents it. This shot is the best I could find, as I try to avoid this situation.

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Accepting – the subject knows they are being photographed, but is not interacting directly with the camera. Their agreement is tacit.

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Engaged – the subject is fully aware of the camera and interacting directly with it.

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Posed – a whole genre in itself. The image below is not fully posed, in that I did not make any requests about how the subject should look or sit, but he was there by arrangement so that we could take photos of him, and was paid for his time.

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The photographer/subject transaction is different in each of these; some are positive and equal, while others are negative or unequal. In the first image, for instance, the market woman was not aware I was taking her picture, and I felt slightly guilty afterwards. In the second, the man thought I was taking his photo, but in reality he was a bystander to the image I was trying to take. Conversely, in the last three images the subjects were willing and had signalled their agreement to the photography. This seems a much more honest way of approaching street and travel photography, and the subject is discussed in more length in my next module, Identity and Place.

As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this type of photography. It allows for real interactions with local people, without a sense of Otherness – we are both involved, and frequently we would show the image to the subject for their approval.

A note on posed photography in travel.

Somehow, the idea of a posed image in travel photography seems a bit like cheating. The whole point of the exercise to me is to see, enjoy and record the travel experience as it happens. Half the joy is the knowledge that each interaction is serendipitous and unplanned. I can see that some photographers might request the opportunity for posed photos, particularly for camera club competitions, and there is no denying that they produce good images. However, it seems a bit wrong, in the same way that quietly photoshopping out elements that were in the original scene, but are extraneous or intrusive. Looking at the Travel Photographer of the Year rules, I see that my views chime fairly well with those of the competition.

 Digital manipulation: You may use digital manipulation to optimise an image, and you may crop an image but you are not permitted to add or remove key elements of the composition. Brightness, contrast, colour balance can all be adjusted. Dust spots and minor elements etc. can be retouched. Images can be sharpened before printing. Manipulations which could realistically be achieved in a darkroom will be accepted but the judges have the discretion to reject any image which has been, in their opinion, over-manipulated, removing the integrity of the original image. Composite or montaged images, from more than one original image are not eligible – this includes images shot at different exposures/dynamic ranges and combined. Images stitched to form a panoramic image will be accepted provided that the entrant declares, at the time of submission, that the final image has been produced in this way. Multiple exposure ‘in camera’ is permitted. Entrants who are shortlisted will be required to provide the original image file (RAW or jpeg as shot) along with the print and high resolution version of their image for final judging.

To be continued –

References

Chandler, D. (1998) Notes on the gaze. Available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/ (Accessed: 8 March 2016).
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5 Responses to Thoughts on travel photography, part 2

  1. Carol Street says:

    These are both very thoughtful and insightful posts Holly – you have certainly given me some points for reflection about my own and others photography.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Exercise 3.4 – Five types of gaze | Holly's OCA I&P Blog

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