Thursday, June 17, 2010

Monks in a Zoo

A few months ago, I wrote about photography as getting in the way of lived experience. There's a new movie coming out, "Camera, Camera" (incidentally the first movie I've wanted to see in a long time) about the colonization of Laos by the cameras of Western travelers and their lenses. The New York Times blog has a fascinating article and video clip of the movie today. The clip they have is better than the trailer embedded in the official "Camera, Camera" site, and more disturbing. There is a devastating moment when barefoot monks walk by the official camera in orange robes, attempting to ignore the camera with their begging bowls: "As the film shows, this sacred ritual is now swarmed by scores of bustling tourists, some of whom lean in with cameras and flashes for closeups as the monks pad silently past." It appears there is at least one camera per monk, and the amateur photographers aka tourists are about as respectful of the monks as they would be of tigers in a zoo. It's a depressing moment.

I've been trying to think about these issues when out and about photographing, which I do a lot. I was at the fair yesterday, and I really wanted to get a shot of the young women in the lemonade/corn dog booth. I've been shooting a lot with my twin lens reflex cameras, the kind with the two little lenses on the front, that take film. These cameras cause me to slow way down- I have to do a light meter reading before I can even begin, and because I have to look down into them to decide where to aim, it takes me a few minutes to focus. The photos come out square, so compositionally it's a totally new effort. It also means I have to stand there for awhile, which can be creepy for humans. The shot was perfect colorwise, and to capture the "essence" of the fair. But the girls quickly became wise to me and stopped doing their ornate corn dog dipping ritual right in front of the window and I settled for a picture of the lemonade cups in their vibrant primary colors. Was I being a colonizer of the "carny" atmosphere? Or just looking for a pretty picture, full of over saturated color in the style I like, without though of whose feelings I was affecting? I did catch myself having the thought yesterday that people at the fair are used to being photographed. Is that a useful justification? Or just a justification that allows me to keep on keeping on?

I've been shooting a lot more inanimate objects. I get weird looks lying on my back in the street trying to get the perfect shot of a car, or taking pictures of the Post a Comment