An Argument for Pizza

Elaine Viola. Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Earlier in the semester, my seminar class would partake in looooong circular discussions about ethics in photojournalism. One of our most heated discussions centered around accepting things/giving things to your photographic subjects.  As many of my classmates remember, and remind me every so often, I was put on the hot seat when I gave an example in which I was given something by someone I was photographing: a slice of pizza.  The assumption was quickly made that I was given this slice of pizza by a male or female that was interested in me for the wrong reasons (this idea has minor sexist undertones, but we don’t need to get into that…).  You see, I wasn’t given a slice of pizza by someone who wanted to be more than just friendly, but a fifty year-old woman whom I met while taking pictures around Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, and who I got to know very well in the span of a couple of hours.

Elaine (the evil pizza-giver) approached me while I was sheepishly taking pictures of passer-bys, and asked me if I was a photographer.  A friendly conversation ensued, I asked to take her picture (not forgetting why I was at Fulton Mall in the first place), and volunteered to walk with her to her next destination. It just so happened that she was heading to Family Court to get some restraining order papers dealt with.  She welcomed the company, and before I knew it, I was getting to know the intimate details of this woman’s life, as I shared a bit about me. And so began a relationship of GIVE and take.  As Alessandro had mentioned in his previous post, I truly believe that it is important to give a little of yourself to your subjects in order to achieve depth in your images. Now, there are definitely times to be stoic and distant, don’t get me wrong, but I find the after life of the images that come out from this process less powerful than the ones in which you’ve truly come to understand your subject, their story, and their relation to you.  Because what is the point then of being a documentary photographer or photojournalist if not to GET CLOSE TO PEOPLE in both the literal and figurative sense and to understand WHY it is you’re doing so.

Now, of course I’m only speaking for myself, and well, I guess it’s a good a time as any to come to terms with the photographer I am.  I am the photographer who takes her subjects seriously. Perhaps too seriously sometimes, but at the end of the day I am the kind of person who just cares, enjoys listening, and is interested in people in both an anthropological and aesthetic way.  Elaine insisted on buying me a slice of pizza, no ifs, ands, or buts, as a thank you for keeping her company in court.  I accepted because I realized that what was happening was more than an exchange between photographer and subject, but an exchange of kindness between two human beings.  And so, I hereby declare that I will never let the photographer overtake the human in me, because we are all both, however dialectically, at the end of the day.  The photographer is a taker and voyeur at the most basic level. It is our job to take it to the next level, to add depth, in whatever form we wish (because we’re all different kinds of people).

Oh, and did I mention I love pizza?

-Cassie G.

2 Comments

  1. I really agree with you Cassie, especially this sentence:
    I accepted because I realized that what was happening was more than an exchange between photographer and subject, but an exchange of kindness between two human beings.

    I guess the problem here is, can those who view your photos after the fact be expected to realize the same, if they come to find out that something was exchanged between photographer and subject? In the end you are asking strangers to trust your judgment in seeing the exchange as non-compromising. This links back into all those discussions we’ve had about not doing anything that might call your work into question. So maybe it is best to play it safe in the end. But personally I naturally agree with your point of view here. It’s hard to keep yourself so separate when all you are doing is connecting with someone in a very innocent way.

  2. Completely by your side Cassie. Sometimes this kind of obsession of not accepting nothing from the subjects except their life, and not giving nothing to them except our interest in their stories looks like a nonsense. What if someone accept to allow us take pictures of them just because he/she really need to speak with someone? Or if he/she has a terrible need of having someone around, to feel to be with someone?
    Isn’t that giving something back to them in change of some pictures? Something they really want?
    Life is not black or white. There are all the grey tones possible in the middle. And so it’s photography, when it tells about life. I think that until you keep your need to shoot a little bit under the respect for your subject story, there should be no problems.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this. Really hope to see more of those stuff up here.

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