Thursday, June 09, 2011

The burden of "Photographer"

Over the weekend my wife and I attended a dance recital featuring the young daughter of one of her co-workers. The co-worker has brought the daughter in many times, and as the little girl is so sweet and charming that my wife couldn't help but bond with her. And I'm dorky enough and old enough that I can watch a bunch of young children perform various dances and find it both adorable and often unintentionally funny, even if none of those children are mine.

At the end of the festivities, as everyone was shuffling out of the auditorium, the girl wanted to pose on stage with her dance teacher for a picture. And the co-worker pulled out a little point-n-shoot digital camera to take the photo, but then someone said, "Oh, wait. Doug's a photographer," and next thing I know the camera is in my hand.

Now, yes, I do have a photo blog, and I did submit some photos I took of an art installation at LACMA where one ended up being used as the cover for a book (of amateur photographs), but if you look at either of those examples of what would make one think I'm a photographer you should quickly grasp one obvious thing about my "photography": I don't take pictures of people.

If I have any "specialty" it is… not people. I've shot plants, clouds, buildings, animals, flowers, sunsets, and other subjects that eschew homo sapiens. That's not suggesting I've never taken a picture with human beings in it, as of course I have. It's for that reason that I do not consider people to be something I photograph well; they are, in my experience, the most difficult subject to capture well. I have tremendous respect for those photographers who get good portrait shots or otherwise flattering photos of the person (or persons). That is a special brand of photography.

I am not that sort of photographer, and I know it. I am okay with that; a man's got to know his limitations, and whatnot.

Still, when someone sticks a camera in my hand to shoot a little girl and her teacher and touts me as having that title, I can't balk or go into the explanation I just did above. While I'm trying to take the photo, I'm struggling with trying to quickly figure out the idiosyncrasies of a strange camera and suppress the sense of pressure I now feel because the title was explicitly mentioned. A level of expectation has been levied (at least in my mind), and now I'm not merely getting a snapshot of a moment; I'm capturing a memory.

But still I think like a photographer of scenes, so I'm trying to frame the subject, and using the rule of thirds, and then having to tell myself: They just want a cute picture of their daughter, not art. So I try to be a bit more conventional, and in the end I'm sure what ends up in the shot is neither quite what they wanted or what I wanted.

Oh sure, they are almost certainly perfectly happy with it, and consider it fine. I'm sure no one is dwelling on such concerns other than me. Still, "fine" ceases to be good enough, in my mind, the second I was identified as having any skill with photography.

The pressure would have been off had they merely said something like, "Here, Doug. You're tall. Can you just take the picture so you can get over these other people?" But no, it wasn't merely a matter of convenience; it was singling me out because it was perceived I could do it best. And although that may be the case, do we have to say it aloud?

1 comment:

  1. I hate being pegged as "the photographer" also. It's rude, I think. That's like making you cook if people know you're good at it. If you volunteer, fine, but if you don't, they shouldn't put you on the spot.

    And I prefer taking pictures of anything BUT people, I agree.


So, what do you think?