Thursday, November 3, 2011

Faces Facing the Camera

I don't like to photograph people without getting their permission first.  We live in a time of diminishing privacy and increasing intrusion, and I'd like to avoid being part of the problem.  To paraphrase Jay Maisel, I don't want to ruin anybody's day by taking a picture of someone who doesn't want to be photographed.

These images are from a 10 day trip to St. Lucia in 2008.  There was our friend and guide, Martin, who seemed to run into people he knew at every corner we turned and at every shop we stopped.

Getting his permission was easy, since he was with us almost continuously for five days. And getting his friend to loosen up and allow me to photograph her wasn't a problem either, because we had a reason to have a conversation before I asked her directly.

She couldn't understand why I'd want a picture of her, and couldn't stop laughing.

The next picture wasn't as easy.  This was a waitress in a small restaurant, barely larger than a hut, in which Martin and I had lunch.  By small, I mean two tables and eight chairs,  and a shelf along a wall used as a counter with a couple of stools. After we placed our order, I asked the waitress if I could photograph her, but she declined.  I respected her response, and set the camera down as Martin and I passed the time of day with light conversation.  After the food came out (fried fish and potatoes, I recall), Martin rose and took the waitress aside.  He said something to her I couldn't make out. She consented at that point to be photographed, and she gave me this shot.

I asked Martin what he said to her.  He replied that he said people in America will see the photograph and will be interested in eating at her restaurant. Obviously, it worked.

After returning home, I sent copies of these pictures to Martin for him to distribute. 

This last picture was the easiest.  I was walking with Martin in the capitol city of St. Lucia, Castries, when school was getting out.  This group of children saw me approaching with my camera and one of them said, "Take our picture!"  Who could resist? Without coaching, they closed in together, and gave me this. What a gift! Martin didn't know any of the children, so I had no way to get a print to them.

Immediately after I took the shot, a man went up to Martin and said I shouldn't be taking pictures of children.  Martin explained he knew me, that I was someone to be trusted.  That seemed to calm the man down, and he left us alone.

Phaedon Books has a post about Steve McCurry and his approach on photographing strangers in foreign lands. One of McCurry's iconic images is the "Afghan Mona Lisa" he photographed for National Geographic several decades ago.  Click on the link and enjoy a minute with Steve.

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