Sunday, September 4, 2011

Storytelling through staring

A tuk-tuk driver, whose vehicle is decorated with a heart, glares at me in Agra, India.
The theme of photographer Ed Kashi's latest exhibit "Eye to Eye" is eye contact. Kashi sorted through his old photographs and deliberately selected images in which individuals were looking directly at the camera. James Estrin of the NYT Lens Blog asked Kashi: "Why is it so upsetting when someone is looking at us?" Kashi responded:
I think it is because we do not want to exist in our pictures. After 30 years of being a photographer, I don't know if it is a conceit. I don't know if it's self-delusion. But there is this idea that if somebody is looking into the camera, then somehow it's inauthentic or it's not a genuine moment. We don't want anyone to think we were there. 
When Estrin prompted Kashi to explain why, he responded: "Because it breaks the fictional notion that it's a candid moment; it's a human document; it's real."

Kashi had many more beautiful words in this interview about 'candid intimacy' and "the pure, pure joy in being engaged in the craftsmanship of photography. In a recent conversation with Kate, a dear friend and constant source of inspiration, we both expressed fascination with the idea of the invisible photographer. There has recently been a lot of conversation about the invisible storyteller at large -- the need for the storyteller's "I" to melt away in order for the subject to come to the forefront.

But can it ever? Is there value in pretending the photographer wasn't there? That the subject did not see the camera? That the writer did not feel anything when she heard the story and was a mere cataloguer of one reality as it was told to her?

The stories that shake me to my core, be they visual or written or musical, make room for all the people whose lives were woven into them: photographers, subjects, writers, interviewees and all their feelings too. I find distance far more fictional than the reality of someone looking at the camera. For me, the 'candid intimacy' of which Kashi speaks lies in acknowledging that as storytellers, we are affected by the stories we tell and that, committed to lack of bias and accuracy as we may be, we bring our lenses into our stories. That does not render the story impure in my eyes; it gives it a pulse, a soul and a life.

A visible photographer, a visibly excited subject: Christmas Eve 2010, Thessaloniki, Greece (photo by Elijah)
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This week, I reveled in the delight of many storytelling resources. How Matters interviewed Marc Maxson of the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project (part I and part II). Kurt Vonnegut talked about the shapes of stories. And Lens Blog linked to Ed Kashi's marvelous photographs of individuals staring straight into the camera.

 Enjoy... and tell me: where are you in your stories?

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