La vida

“Hi” by Kinsse Morlan

I talked to photographer Frederic Roberts recently (he currently has a show on India up at MoPA), and something he said really made me think about the process of taking photos.  And I’m not talking technical:  We’ve all gone digital, so photography is no longer too much about the aperture of f-stop, nor is it about developing the film or spending any time at all in the dark room ourselves (which I did way back in high school, and miss greatly).

Frederic reminded me of the human side of photography. He called “travel photographers”  — those who swoop into an exotic place and start putting their cameras in foreigners’ faces — total and complete assholes. And he’s right.

I’ve lived in Tijuana for two years, but I’m still an asshole outsider who keeps my camera on or near me at all times, just waiting for a chance to whip it out and snap a shot of something my gringa eyes recognize as different and interesting. Most of the time, of course, it’s the people of Tijuana.

But Frederic made me think about how I go about taking my photos.  It’s important to me to catch people doing their normal day-to-day things, but sometimes they see me seeing them and they get uncomfortable.  I, too, get uncomfortable when I’m on the other side of the lens, so I completely understand, but the question becomes;  How do you go about getting these great “average life of interesting foreign people” photos without being an outsider asshole? Frederic said he developed a relationship with all of his subjects, but that’s a luxury (both in the time and money sense) that I simply don’t have.  I could take the time to ask people if I can take their pictures, but then I’d lose the thing I like most about photography — the one moment of random fleeting beauty.

Arg.  I don’t have the answer.


About Kinsee Morlan

Arts and web editor at San Diego CityBeat. Interested in art and the Tijuana/San Diego border.
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One Response to La vida

  1. d.a. kolodenko says:

    With all due respect to Fred, as I agree that there are many many asshole travel photographers out there, the effects of images are immeasurable. One may not be able to develop a “relationship” with everyone one photographs (who decides what constitutes a relationship? Buying someone lunch? Inviting them to your wedding?), but it’s certainly possible that a photo of a stranger can produce some good in the world, even if it is complicated by the difficulty of the subject/object relationship. It’s great when photographers develop projects that put cameras in the hands of those who might not have otherwise taken pictures and these folks document their own lives, but there is also the validity of the sort of in-the-face aesthetic of, say, Hamburger Eyes.
    How does one know when one has become the photographer pure of soul who has earned her or his right to steal the soul of the subject?

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