January 18, 2012

Photojournalism & the power of time

One of the great pleasures of my job is getting to meet kickass artists of all stripes. This past summer I got to visit SWAT-cop-turned-photojournalist Bruce Haley at his home at the bottom of Big Sur’s Bixby Canyon. When I asked his advice about photographing people during my upcoming trip, he pointed me to an interview in which he provides some solid perspective. I’ve bolded a line that distills some of my hopes.

BH:  We spoke earlier about doing projects on my own dime…  what this buys me, in addition to the aforementioned freedom and independence, is time  –  the time I need to make people comfortable with my presence…

I don’t sneak any of my images, I never use a telephoto, I don’t do the “spray and pray” thing…  I spend time with the people I photograph, I hang out with them, get drunk with them, they invite me to their weddings, to funerals, whatever…  in extreme cases, like working in very closed societies like the most marginalized of the Roma, it took even more of that luxury of time…

First of all, I had to locate the camps or settlements that I wanted to shoot…  then I had to approach the camp, as a most unwelcome outsider, and not only try to convince them to allow me to shoot there, but to be relaxed enough with my presence that I could be that proverbial fly-on-the-wall that I aspire to be when I’m working…  and with the Roma especially, all of this was difficult, and I had some failures, but in the end I found some places where it all clicked…

Once I had the initial permission, I would ease into the situation very slowly, hoping to raise the comfort bar as high as possible..  I would show up without a single camera and just hang out…  maybe come back the next day with my camera bag, but never take a camera out…  next time come back and wear a camera around my neck, but not shoot anything… and all the while learning about the people, as individuals, so that my images would hopefully depict them as individuals, and not just as symbols of some sort of marginalized group…  then, finally, after all of this, beginning to shoot…  this easing in, getting extremely wary people accustomed to my presence prior to my making a single image, is a luxury of time, certainly, but better to have this level of trust and comfort as opposed to just walking into a situation, motor drive blazing, then beating a hasty retreat and hoping you got something…

Here Andrei Codrescu & Bruce speak about Bruce’s Sunder project:

Posted by John Nack at 9:05 AM on January 18, 2012


  • kat gilbert — 11:23 AM on January 18, 2012

    thank you for this link… this is the kind of view that gets the creative juices flowing!

  • kat gilbert — 1:05 PM on January 18, 2012

    I just looked at his section on “conflict”- powerful and disturbing and I am sure very true to the moment.

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