Faux Pas

07/22/2010

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I have been working on a series of photographs documenting the children who live on fincas in this area.  The style of photography I am aiming for is candid and natural, with the goal of showing the lifestyle of kids in rural Rama Caida; how they play, go to school and interact with friends and family.  My original  intent was to be objective, but I'm finding out just how hard (if not impossible) that is.
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Every farm household on our street has children, so my subjects are close at hand.   Driving home the other day, we passed a pair of boys playing in their front yard, and when they waved eagerly at us,  I decided to take out my camera and photograph them.   They were with a family member who was babysitting, so of course I explained the project I was working on and asked her for permission to take some pictures of the brothers.  She was intrigued to hear that I will be exhibiting the series of photos in Canada, and gladly gave her consent.  

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Shortly after I arrived home, I heard a horn honking at the gate.  The boys' parents Erica and Leo wanted to speak to me.  They were not at all concerned about the fact that I had taken a few photographs of their two sons, but were upset that the boys had not been cleaned up and properly dressed beforehand.  Embarrassed by the childrens' soiled jeans and casual sweatshirts, Erica invited  me to come over to her house later in the day to re-shoot my photos.  She also wanted to make sure that her newborn baby would be included in my pictures.  

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Waldemar children 1906
"The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own," wrote Susan Sontag in the 1977 collection of essays entitled "On Photography."   My concept of photography was clearly not the same as my neighbours', and my spontaneous timing  had offended her.    She would have preferred advance warning, allowing time to formally prepare the scene and present a cleaned-up version of her boys, ready to pose for a studio portrait.  Like any mother, she wanted her children to be presented in the best light.   I was guilty of behaving like a tourist,  seeking a personal souvenir to take home and show off.  

I apologized to Erica, and arranged a time to visit her house for another photography session.  I have little or no interest in creating the kind of photo she has in mind, but I have to make amends for my impropriety.  I'll have an extra portrait printed and framed for her to hang on the livingroom wall - not the one with the children playing freely in the dirt, but the other indoor shot with clean, pressed Sunday clothes, shiny shoes, combed hair and bright, smiling faces.  A photograph that reflects her perfectly valid version of reality, not my own.  

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"Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience." 
                                                                           - Susan Sontag