My Chosen Subjects - Why I Photograph Them
Over the last couple of years, a question often raised revolved around the bias of my very narrow choice in subject. In other words, why do I only photograph the specifications particular to my partners-in-crime? Well, it is a matter of simplification by picking the colloquial “low hanging fruits”. For someone like me who used to work in women’s fashion, selecting this route was really the least cumbersome approach. Essentially, it’s the same reason why most photobloggers rely on their family and friends for the photos they publish.
And of all the low hanging fruits, why has Anna and Lydia remained conspicuously AWOL as of late? Well, it is because they’ve been away from Hong Kong. In the past, a lack of help would have been deeply concerning. Without new photos, I would have had no new visual content to accompany the nonsense written on this blog. Even so, I wasn’t exactly left in a lurch. After all, Judit was here all this time. As such, I didn't have to take more drastic measures in traveling afar to keep this blog afloat throughout the dog days of summer.
Of course, there was also the issue of intense back and shoulder pains. It is the hazard of spending too much time tapping needlessly on the keyboard. For that reason, I took a six-week sabbatical from the blog earlier in June. But when I was well enough to resume my duties, work consumed most of my time. And whatever time I had leftover during my brief stopovers in Hong Kong, the downpour from the summer monsoons made it too wet for photowalks. As such, the photos on the last five blog entries were shot in a span of just four days.
Over the last three years, as word of mouth of this dog and pony show has trickled its way around the online forums, I’ve been criticized by many for what essentially can be summed up as my obvious demonstration of shallow photography. If not for the crutch of youth and vitality graced by my partners-in-crime, no one would give this blog a second look. I mean, who can’t take a good photo, if the subject in frame is easy on the eyes, as the expression goes. It’s not like I’m turning lead into gold with my expertise.
Point taken. I suppose if I were to find inspiration in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the shantytowns of Soweto, or the slums of Kolkata, my objective in capturing the reality of poverty would not be regarded as shallow in undertaking. But then, wouldn't my efforts be seen as exploitive? It’s not as if I’m intimately familiar with life in the the urban squalor. In that way, recreational documentation of those most vulnerable and unable to refuse my documentary advances would seem predatory - especially on a day trip from my resort.
If I don’t want to be so blatantly exploitive, I could opt for the projects of New York City, the council estates of London, or the banlieues of Paris, where the indigenous residents can better parlay their disapproval towards unsolicited attempts to photograph them. Surely, my documentary advances off the beaten path wouldn’t be seen as predatory. But, isn’t that the point? Since I am not intimately a part of these communities, my efforts can only be seen as opportunistic and superficial in both intent and outcome.
That said, I could just stay closer to home. There’s that anti-government protest happening every weekend in Hong Kong, which is full of photo opportunities. Presumably, the protesters should not be camera shy, given their hopes to dominate the news cycle. But since my demonstration of commitment has not been anywhere as faithful and unwavering as the devotion put on display by the students, any sharing of photos taken by me would seem disingenuous - especially since this dog and pony show is just a photo blog.
And perhaps that’s the point. This is a photo blog. It’s not suppose to be anything more than just a photo blog. I mean, I’m not suppose to climb up Everest or the Burj Khalifa or plummet from the outer stratosphere with a camera in-hand in order to collect weekly visual content for this blog. Nor am I suppose to venture deep into global hot spots where armed conflicts are currently in progress. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to justifiably capture these life and death moments with intimate familiarity beyond the efforts of a dilettante.
Like most of you, I really want to be able to photograph more than just the usual suspects. I wish I could go to the slums and the projects. I wish I could climb up to the top of the world or be thrown into a war zone to get that elusive money shot. I wish I could take photos worthy of recognition, unlike my shallow weekly offering. But without firm commitment to gain intimate familiarity outside my comfort zone, whatever I photograph will just end up superficial in expression, self-serving in aspiration, and exploitive in presentation.
If anything, photographing my partners-in-crime is the least shallow undertaking I could do in the practice of photography. As one educated, mentored, and indoctrinated in women’s fashion, I am skilled and proficient in my chosen area of documentary expertise. For example, I know how best to interact with my collaborators in order to minimize unflattering angles (which may surprise you is my constant concern behind the lens). As such, choosing to photograph beyond my comfort zone would be needlessly cumbersome.
From the perspective of a collaborative relationship, we speak the same language of conduct. There is none of that awkwardness from unfamiliarity or apprehension from an absence of trust. In contrast, I would not be able to reach that level of documentary access, if I wanted to work on a project with unfamiliar subjects where trust has yet been established. To cultivate a meaningful collaborative relationship, I would require more time than just a day trip, which is much more than I could muster up, given the limitations of real life.
The fact that my partners-in-crime are easier on the eyes is incidental, as Hannibal Lector would have likely interjected in quoting Marcus Aurelius. For that reason, is it really fair to criticize my narrow choice of subject just because the low hanging fruits I tend to photograph - sashaying down Hong Kong’s less visited streets -happen to be visually pleasing? It’s not as if I’ve gone out of my way to do this. And if I were to select another subject, the results of my efforts would be even more disingenuous and thus more shallow in outcome.
No, it would be completely irrational for me to photograph any subject other than my partners-in-crime. As a vehicle to further the objectives of a photo blog, is there really a better option for me? Admittedly, I could just follow the tried and true methodology practiced by most every other photo blogger, who typically choose to photograph their family and friends. But, there is that pesky issue of privacy which would not benefit from that approach. Besides, my partners-in-crime, being visually pleasing, are great at throwing off the scent.
Seriously, would it make any sense for me to photograph anyone other than my partners-in-crime? To do so would be like asking you not to photograph your family and friends. In what world would that make sense? In my opinion, there is no better choice to photograph than your family and friends. You know them intimately. They trust you. For that reason, you can have immense access to photographing them with candid familiarity. In return, your family and friends will appreciate your efforts in photographing them with due care.
Personally, I believe the question I’m constantly asked about my subject of choice has more to do with those asking me the question than my choice of subject. In my opinion, the question is really more an inclination to believe the grass is greener on the other side. I mean, what’s there not to like in photographing my partners-in-crime? It must be better than photographing family and friends. Admittedly, I understand the sentiment. If all you photograph is the same-old-same-old, your limitation in subject can get very old very quickly.
I too am inclined to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. I too wish I can go beyond limitations and photograph moments of social inequity, human achievement, and world conflict, in addition to the many wonders of the natural world - like a Magnum photographer. But, I am not a Magnum photographer. It is just wishful thinking to believe that I could play Magnum photographer, given that the reality of their assignments requires commitment beyond vanity and a day trip from the resort.
Though to be fair, there is no rule that one cannot play Magnum photographer. It is just you are more likely to take better photos of subjects where you have an intimate familiarity than those with just a passing or limited understanding.
Take my advice. Whatever you are already photographing is probably good enough. Learn to be satisfied with your limitation in what you can photograph. Only then would you realize that the grass is just as green on your side.
All images were tweaked on Adobe Lightroom and digitized on a Nikon Z6 + Nikon AF-S Micro 60mm f/2.8G + Bolt VM-210 + Nikon ES-2. Some images were leveled and cropped for the sake of presentation.
And yes, I do have a blog entry with photos from the ongoing Hong Kong protest. However, I was not the one who took the photographs. In that way, I do not find those photos disingenuous. For that reason, I am gratified that the photographer allowed me to publish his photos. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to offer my opinion on the protest - which by the way is from the heart.