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|| News Item: Posted 2006-09-05

Preaching to the Choir: When Your Camera Betrays You
By Paul Myers, Brooks Institute of Photography

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
It all seems so innocent at the time. You are writing captions back at the office or relaxing with friends at the beach, out walking the dog in your neighborhood or eating your pizza at halftime.


Somebody else uses your camera.

Might be your best friend, your co-worker or your two-year-old niece. It does not matter. The fact remains that somebody else uses your camera and takes a pretty cool picture. In fact, it is the only beautiful photograph in your entire take on that day. Nice light, great framing, interesting interaction, clean backgrounds, slightly-tilted horizon, multiple layers, exposing for the highlights, something you would see somewhere like, you know, or something.

Don't you just hate that?

I mean, they pick up your camera and make a photograph that you would have never thought of or felt to make, ever. Worst part of it all is that the photograph is of a subject you know inside and out, someone or some venue you have been photographing for hours, days, months, years... and the camera, it betrays you and your "vision" and exposes the frame in a totally different way from the rest of your take. It exposes you for the photographer you are.

Yes, the camera betrays you and shows you the possibilities that you already dismissed before showing up on the scene and assumes the "way of seeing" of another person. This betrayal by that same camera you paid three grand for lies in this self-realization as well as in the unmasking of your underlying belief that somehow the camera is partially responsible for your amazing photographs, no matter how many times you tell yourself photography is not about the camera: that the seven frames per second are worth the time editing; that auto focus changed your life; that TTL is your best friend; that 35mm full frame is the only way to really show daily life; that the constant upgrades are worth the debt.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
These betraying images made with your camera differ from yours in spite of all the technology in your camera that ought to level the field. At the same time they are completely devoid of your idiosyncrasies in the form of posture, slight anticipation of the moment, focal decision, distance from subject, ISO, f/stop, shutter speed, angle, breathing techniques all of which are nowhere to be found. These little decisions and the countless others that combined form your approach to photography are nothing more than the totality of your way of seeing. Furthermore, as it turns out, they have nothing to do with the camera itself. Betrayed, once again you realize that the camera is not a magical tool particular to your approach in helping you "see" and you are held completely responsible for the pictures you take. Ouch, that stings.

Its funny that we only have access to noticing how personal photography is when our friend sitting next to us ever so casually, even nonchalantly, picks up our camera, shrugs, snaps a couple of pictures, sets the beast back down on the table and mutters something to the effect, "Eeh, there wasn't anything to see, anyway."

Later, editing, you cannot take your eyes off the alien images, every one of the little buggers screaming out in the sequence as unique and amazing. In this moment, strain to remember that you notice this difference only because you did not take that picture and because it is different does not make it more effective or more beautiful or more historical. These pictures have nothing to do with you and, as outsiders, point a finger at everything you are and are not as a photographer. Yes, these aliens mixed in with your images, though taken from such a strangely similar yet oh so distant comprehension of the basics of the machine and how one interacts with it, together, in the moment
Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
of photographic exposure, point to exactly how you see as an individual photojournalist. And just for being different you might so easily mistake them as being "better" than your images. Hmmm, are you placing too much weight in understanding your growth as a photographer onto how much your images change over time, for good or bad? Either way, rejoice in this revealing event when another takes a picture with your camera as it a true opportunity for you to learn about your way of seeing.

If, heaven forbid, you care about developing a style this is a prime moment to scrutinize your photographic approach. Take a long look at how these images differ from your entire take. Of course this is risky because it is a chance for you to learn about your approach and the opportunities that are available for you to improve or further your understanding of visual storytelling. It is in this instance of difference between your images and another's, right in your own take, that the mystique of the camera is revealed: that it has none and that these photographs you make are particular to you and your posture, your way of depressing the shutter, your particular height and hand eye coordination... Photojournalist: rejoice in knowing that from all these idiosyncrasies spring forth your gifts to us, your peers and your audience.

(Paul Myers is a faculty member of the Visual Journalism Program at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, CA. Prior to his arrival at Brooks, Myers worked for a variety of publications including newspapers in Freeport, IL and Marysville, CA.)

Related Links:
Paul's member page

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