Taking or Receiving
'Can I take your portrait?'. I was thinking that it's an unfortunate term. It implies a transaction, a one-way transaction. The photographer taking something from the subject of the photograph.
In the US a photographer generally has the legal right to take photographs in a public place. The law is mostly on the side of the photographer, at least for now. That freedom has provided many great works of art and records of public life, of cultural memories that would otherwise be gradually lost.
I'm grateful for the legal freedom that we have as photographers. But I also don't want to have the mentality that I'm simply exercising my rights, especially when there are other people involved. I'd rather feel that I'm receiving something when I make a photograph. I'd rather feel grateful for the opportunity.
I've started reading a book called "Eyes of the Heart" by Christine Valters Paintner, and she talks about a spiritual element of photography. Many photographers talk about being 'in the zone' and completely absorbed by the activity of making an image. Others express gratitude for the type of life they have been able to lead as a photographer, whether it's for the people they've met or the places they've visited. I haven't heard many though talk about gratitude over each image, of it being something they receive rather than go out to capture.
I do take candid street shots of people, but I want to respect their wishes too. Both of the images here I took last week whilst walking around Jersey City. Both times we got talking about something else before I asked for the portrait. Both times there was an immediate smile, an enjoyment of the moment. These are the types of interaction that I love to experience.
Of course, sometimes there is concern or conflict. There have been important photographs taken where the subject didn't want to be photographed. That's part of photojournalism, and of some types of street photography if you're aims are to genuinely record a theme or neighbourhood. But hopefully those situations are the exception, and we do what we can to make them the exception, by engaging and being willing to discuss our work and it's intentions.
So am I really taking something if I photograph a landscape, or a moment on the street, or the face of a friend? Perhaps. But I want to start being more conscious of receiving the image, receiving the beauty, the special moment, being given the opportunity to record it for others to see. It's a gift and a privilege that we've been given.