evidence of man
I took a photojournalism class and it totally threw off my game. I had a flow going, a style of shooting that I liked, a simple post processing routine that I could apply effortlessly. All I had to do was concentrate on the subject matter. Frame the shot. Find the light. Shoot for the moment and not have to think about technical settings.
I’m not talking full on auto shooting either. I like to shoot in shutter priority and adjust my ISO ad shutter speed according to the situation. ISO is a term carried over from the days of film photography. It stands for the International Standards Organization, the really smart guys and gals who decide how to standardize sensitivity ratings for camera sensors. Fiddling with the ISO adjusts the camera’s sensitivity to light.
The subject matter that I currently shoot requires a fast shutter speed. I switch between having the camera to my eye and shooting from the hip. I turn the ISO up when I’m in dark areas like alleys or shadowy sides of the street. I adjust the shutter speed to either allow motion blur or completely freeze time. I can stop it up to 1/8000th of a second. I control light and I stop time. I am a God.
Then I get to Beginning Photojournalism and it’s just nothing but constraints. Don’t shoot in shutter priority, don’t use Lightroom, don’t use Silver Efex Pro. Don’t use any of the tools that help make your photos look awesome. Just do an unsharp mask and slightly tweak the levels. That’s all they allow me to do. I need more freedom than that.
I’m doing fine in the class, and I think my final project will be a good one, but for being a guy that loves photography more than anything, this class killed me. I did learn how to caption in AP Style though. I also got some great tips on how to get access behind the scenes. I’m ready to get serious. I have one huge, enormous, gigantic obstacle left to hurdle. Self doubt. Nervousness. Feeling inadequate. That’s my problem. I have the guts to get the shot in the heat of the moment, but I have a real hard time initiating contact. I don’t hide that I’m taking pictures, but I don’t make myself available to talk to anyone. It’s a mental block. I just freeze up.
This entire semester I worked really hard to force myself to talk to people. I talked at length to a homeless man who collects scrap to get by, I got an Anonymous protester to unmask himself to me and reveal his identity. I met a group of activists from the Occupy Denver movement and went to a few of their gatherings. I talked about green beans with a nice elderly lady who feeds the homeless every Friday night. I met a guy with a freshly beaten face who talked to me for at least 30 minutes. A guy with a red beard named Irish and his buddy Juan. The point is I talk to people, but I’m not getting deep enough. I just can’t seem to let go of that last little bit, and that hurts, because that could be the one thing that stops me from ever finding success in this endeavor. The one thing that makes me the guy who isn’t really a photographer. The guy who has to swallow his pride and admit he’s not good enough. Because the competition is fierce, and there are some really good photographers out there pushing the envelope and doing amazing things. I want to do that too. More than anything.
I want to teach my children that it’s okay to stumble and fall while you are chasing your goals. You don’t have to quit because you suck at first, or because it seems too hard. Keep trying. Don’t give up.
That’s just how I feel.
My girlfriend gave me some great advice about photography. I was complaining to her about how asking for permission to take a photo of someone ruined the candidness of the moment. She told me, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” Whenever I’m out in the streets with the intention of capturing candid moments I live by that creed. Today I ran into a person who mistakenly assumed I snapped a picture of him. He got in my face and said, “What are you taking pictures of people for?”
His aggressive nature triggered an angry reaction in me. I took a breath and told him that I wasn’t actually taking a picture of him, I was intrigued by the giant lollipop on that truck that was passing through the intersection. Then he said this, “You are a lying little bitch, you’re camera was pointed right at me.” At this point my frontal cortex went dark and I turned into a crazy person, frothing at the mouth and spewing an expletive laden explanation of my rights as a photographer in a public space.
He is the second person in less than a month to confront me like this. On each occasion I was not actually photographing the people who were so offended by the presence of my camera and I. Over the years I have developed a sense of the type of person I think wouldn’t like their picture taken. In a world with billions of people I have no problem avoiding confrontation by passing up a photo opportunity, I know there is another person who would love their picture taken just around the next corner. This person was one of those guys. I had absolutely zero interest in photographing him.
In both instances I was harassed simply because I was carrying a camera around someone who doesn’t like cameras. Normally if someone questions me, I apologize and I tell them I’m a journalism student working on a project, but in these rare cases when someone basically attacks me for no reason I feel compelled to stand up for myself. I will not be intimidated by the guy flying a sign at the intersection begging for money because he got in my face for taking a picture I didn’t take. I’m sorry. I just won’t.
The other guy who did this to me actually rode up on a bike while I had my back turned, ran into me and actually started physically pushing me around. He was screaming at me, and accusing me of taking pictures of homeless people waiting outside a shelter in the middle of the night. Both of these times I tried to explain that I wasn’t doing what they thought I was, my explanations came across as sheepishly delivered excuses. When I heard myself sounding weak and meek that really made me angry and then I just started yelling back at them, standing my ground, trying to stand up to their “alpha-ness.”
As a photographer in the streets, I will be happy to delete a picture of any person who doesn’t want their picture taken. You don’t have to yell at me or get in my face or push me around, all you have to do is ask. I take thousands of pictures a day, losing one is no skin off my back. If you do push me around, that only will cause me to do the very thing you didn’t want in the first place. You get in my face, I’ll take your picture every time.
I’m just trying to tell the story of my life. I’m not out to ridicule people. I’m not out there doing undercover investigations of panhandlers. I don’t care that much about what you are doing. Just like it is this guy’s right to stand on the corner and make people feel uncomfortable every time they have to stop at the red light while he stares at them in their cars begging for cash, it is my right to take his picture while he is doing it. The truth of it is, I’ve been practicing street photography long enough that panhandlers and the homeless aren’t really my preferred subject for a photograph. Especially not a guy in a Superman hat.
I’m not a terrorist. I’m a Marine Corps Veteran. I’m not a pedophile. I’m a 40-year-old father of three, trying to make a new start in the world. Investing my time in the pursuit of a college education, trying to re-invent myself. I’m not proud of any arguments I have with my fellow humans. These type of confrontations make me sick to my stomach and I agonize over every cruel word I said in anger. So I’m sorry confrontational panhandler guy, you probably didn’t deserve to be the subject of my tirade. I felt disrespected and I reacted. It is a part of who I am.