the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

ANTHROPOGRAPHY

Tuning up: A fiddler runs a few practice riffs before a barn dance in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Tuning up: a fiddler runs a few practice riffs before a barn dance in Flagstaff, Arizona.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

WRITING CLICHE NUMBER 5,218 STATES THAT YOU SHOULD WRITE about what you know. Mine your own experience. Use your memories and dreams as a kickoff point for the Great American Novel, or, at least, the Okay American E-book. But while the “know-it-do-it” school of technique offers writers a pretty sound foundation for scribblers, photographers need to learn how to leave their native nests and fly into unknown country. The best pictures sometimes are where you, comfortably, aren’t.

Caperin' up a storm, by golly.

Caperin’ up a storm, by golly.

Shooting an event or lifestyle that is completely outside yourself confers an instantaneous objectivity of sorts to your pictures, since you don’t have any direct experience with the things you’re trying to capture. You’re forced to pretty much go instinctive, since you can’t draw on your memory banks. This is certainly true of combat photographers or people dropped down into the middle of fresh disasters, but it also works with anything that’s new to you.

Take square-dancing. No, I mean it. You take square-dancing, as in, I’d rather be covered in honey and hornets than try to master something that defines “socially awkward” for yours truly. I can’t deny that, on the few occasions that I’ve observed this ritual up close, it obviously holds infinite enjoyment for anyone who isn’t, well, me. But being me is the essential problem. I not only possess the requisite two left feet, I am lucky, on some occasions to even be ambulatory if the agenda calls for anything but a rote sequence of left-right-left. Again, I concede that square-dancers seem almost superhumanly happy whenever doing their do-si-doing, and all props to them. Personally, however, I can cause a lot less damage and humiliation for all concerned if I bring a camera to the dance instead of a partner.

Shooting something you don’t particularly fancy yourself is actually something of an advantage for a photographer. It allows you to just dissect the activity’s elements, using the storytelling techniques you do know to show how the whole thing works. You’re using the camera to blow apart an engine and see its working parts independently from each other.

In either writing or shooting, clinging to what you know will keep your approach and your outcomes fairly predictable. But when photography meets anthropology, you can inch toward a little personal growth. You may even say “yes” when someone asks you if you care to dance.

Or you could just continue to maintain your death grip on your camera.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s