Thursday, July 7, 2011

Photographic Solipsism

I envy photographers who have confidence and a pure enough spirit, that they can afford to take the moral high ground on the issue of photographing only people who have given their express consent to be photographed. I don't want to take pictures of people who don't want their pictures to be taken, but I sometimes get stuck thinking that the people I'd like to photograph would never consent to it - considering the nature of my work, and that I'm too honest to pretend that there isn't a sensual quality to my appreciation of beauty, something that is bound to scare many people away.

But, I suppose if you never ask, the answer is always no.

The trouble is, I hardly ever meet people - especially the ones I'd like to photograph - let alone tell them all about my photography hobby (which is a little bit more difficult to explain than it would be for someone who shoots inoffensive things like flowers and pets and sunsets).

If I were to take pictures of a public crowd, I would be instinctively drawn to the more attractive members of that crowd, and my realization of that fact would make me self-conscious, and I would begin to feel guilty. Because the fact of the matter is, I don't really want to take pictures of the crowd. It would just be an excuse for me to take pictures of the attractive members of the crowd, without having to single them out and ask them to model for my camera. And part of the reason I'm afraid to do that is because I feel guilty treating a person like a piece of meat.

I'd like to believe that anyone would be flattered if a photographer came up and told them they're pretty enough to be in pictures, but it's hard for me to think that way when I hear so many things about people being suspicious of photographers, not wanting their pictures showing up on the internet, and about how degrading it is to have your image appreciated on a superficial level by complete strangers.

Maybe it's my fault for conflating what people say about pornography with plain portraiture, but then again, maybe it's the odd way my mind works: that if you look at a picture and like it because the girl is pretty, that it doesn't make all that much of a difference to me (in terms of being more or less degrading) if the girl is fully dressed or nude and spread-eagled. To me, sex is sacred, and pornography is as innocent as any other kind of portraiture.

So I guess when people say, "it's different with porn", I don't really understand what they mean. Especially considering that we can't come to a consensus on what is considered porn. If a person can use an innocent image for pornographic purposes, is it right for us to then become suspicious of innocent images? And if not, then how can we condemn pornographic images outright, if there is the possibility that they can be meaningful, uplifting, and positive accounts of sexuality, that do not degrade the models? I just can't seem to sort out the logic behind the way we act on these issues, together as a culture. And I suspect that's because there is no logic behind it.

And that's why I rarely take pictures of crowds, and have very few pictures of other people, besides myself (with a few rare and important exceptions). I'm the only person I want to take pictures of who I know - with certainty - is on board with my goals and purposes as a photographer. And, you know, who won't complain when they learn that I sometimes shoot pornography, and then come to the conclusion that that somehow stains the rest of my work.

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