Monday, March 14, 2011

In Regards to Photographing People

Amish Horse and Buggy, Bird-in-Hand, PA, 2011

I hear often people speaking about "essence" when they're discussing photography.  Successful images are usually so vivid, so all-encompassing about their subject, that they rarely leave room for words to describe them.  "You just have to see it for yourself," is what I usually end up saying when asked to describe an image I admire.  The right place and the right time are necessary ingredients for success; you've no doubt heard about the "magical moment" in photography.  Sometimes, this "magical moment" happens only after exhaustive deliberation and preparation, other times it comes as a prosperous accident.  But, above and beyond everything else, there must be patience.

I spent this past weekend immersed in Amish culture in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  The Amish, as we know, have purposely separated themselves from the world and its contrivances.  Part of their deeply-held religious beliefs is the idea that no one should call attention to themselves, and this includes being photographed.  One of the reasons why I don't think that I'd make a good photojournalist is because I strongly respect the private worlds of people.  Of course, I like it when people look at my work, but never at the emotional and personal expense of others.  I do strongly believe that, if you are a thoughtful and thorough-enough photographer, you can capture the idea of a person and their culture completely and absolutely without ever having to resort to disrespect.  That being said, of course I itched to photograph these wonderful people and their world.  It was not until the very end of the day that I captured this image, and beyond being satisfied with what I had photographed, I felt like I had a perfect reminder of what it felt like to a visitor in the Amish world, and I could feel content in the fact that I had not crossed any personal moral boundaries.  

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