Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Myra- The Photographer Avatar

In order to look at how limited experience really is, I chose to look not only at how the medium I recorded in impacted my experience, but also at the way I chose to see it in.  I divided different parts of my personality into different avatars to show these different view points and how different my experience was by being different avatars.  My photographer avatar, Myra, has been quite the learning experience.  The medium of digital photography itself offers a lot of questions about the authenticity of experience and brings in a lot of ethical questions.  However, what interests me the most about my Myra experiment was the difference between an “essence” and an “authentic” photograph. 

Somewhere along the lines I realized that my photograph experiment was failing.  I did not feel right about “taking” pictures of people that I did not know with little intention of giving anything back in return.  It made me serious question National Geographic, and more than ever I believe that establishing proper rapport is necessary to get those kinds of images.  Out of my frustration, I developed a new idea.  I would take a picture every hour on the hour and juxtapose that to the “essence” picture, or what I considered the posed National Geographic type of image that would go in a portfolio.  They are not pretty to look at, but it shows a more accurate presentation of my experience.  Granted, it is not purely authentic.  I could have taken a picture on the half hour, or the five-minute mark, and had a completely different experience.  I just think that it is one step closer to authenticity. 

Here is a slideshow of one of my favorite days where I did this every hour on the hour experiment.  To see the more of these photos click here.

Then fate played me a sweet card.  While I was in Cape Coast I ran across the book A Portrait of Ghana with photographs by Max Milligan.  Here I gained the courage I needed to take some “essence” pictures.  I ended up getting some by the end of my visit, but juxtaposing it to the “authentic” pictures made me realize that the nature of travel photography, like travel writing and creative nonfiction, is something that has been cropped—something that has been seriously limited by taking it out of the context.  A picture can say a thousand words, but that says nothing of being true to the experience.

Here is another slideshow of some of my “essence” pictures that I might end up submitting to photo contests or put in my photography portfolio.  In most cases I did not know the subject, never knew their name, and just happened to snap a “good” picture, even though it had little to do with representing what I actually did that day. 

General Conclusions about Myra:

  1.  A lot goes in to taking a picture.  When you do not have something that sparks your interest and you are forced to take a picture on the spot, these creative choices are readily apparent.  What to include, what to cut out, how to say it, what to say, it is all really overwhelming.  Yet, these decisions go into every single picture we take. 
  2. When I was thinking like a photographer I tended to notice things that I would not have otherwise.  Textures, colors, backdrops, etc.  When you are not looking for them they are easy to pass up (FN:8:13, FN:27:27, FN:73:10, FN:80:21, FN:85:3)
  3. I also had the opportunity to be involved with a different population since I was Myra.  I made a lot of friends with kids that I would probably never have encountered.  They were my best, and favorite, subjects (FN:63:4, FN:80:14).
  4. I discovered that I am a shy person when it comes to taking pictures of people I do not know.  The concept of “taking” a picture was a good lesson learned (FN:10:1, FN:24:4, FN:61:6-8, FN:63:7).
  5. What does it mean to take a “good” picture?  What qualifies as a “good” picture, and what happens to the thousands of images I have on my computer that never go into a portfolio, let alone a Facebook album?  What those pictures mean was something that I learned being Myra.  Not being embarrassed by pictures that were more authentic to my experience is still a work in progress, but the lesson is something we could all learn from (FN:24:6-8, FN:63:5, GN:80:7, FN:86:15, FN:88:6).
1st photo credit goes to Patrick Ng on flickr

(More data regarding Myra can be found in my field notes FN:8:26, FN:9:1, FN:13:13-16, FN:15:3, FN:16:9 FN:18:13, FN:19:1-6, FN:19:10, FN:24:1, FN:29:23, FN:33:1, FN:45:5, FN:45:15, FN:61:2, FN:68:2, FN:80:2, FN:80:17)

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