No Shortcuts

As a society reared in the “right here, right now” computer era, my generation has exceedingly sought, and found shortcuts. Our attention spans are shorter, we get frustrated more easily, and we want technology to do the work for us. This may seem like a pessimistic view, but it’s real. Looking around any one of my lecture classes, more than 75% of the class is on their computer looking at videos, chatting with friends, or just glancing through pop culture sites. Students seem eager to cut corners and spend the least amount of time possible doing practically anything. This unseemly habit has extended into our journalistic practices as well.

In lecture we discussed the importance of obtaining all four aspects of Joe Elbert’s Picture Hierarchy. This included the “Five W’s” or the basic facts, picture quality, emotion, and the hardest one to obtain, intimacy. Bea Wallace, our lecturer for the day, said that even as a grad student she tried to rush directly into intimacy, but when has an intimate moment ever been rushed into?

If I were to show up at a stranger’s house, let’s say yours (just for creeper’s sake) and start going through all of your old photo albums, looking for stories like a good journalist, you would probably feel imposed upon, if not violated, and my creeper self would end up in the back of a police car for trespassing. This dramatic image is just to illustrate how wrong it is to force yourself into a story hoping to get all the “good stuff” right away. Wallace emphasized multiple times in lecture that in order to capture an intimate moment, you have to be there, a lot.

When I’m about to enter an intimate moment, I’m usually alone, or with only a trusted, close friend or family member (the ones I plan anyways). I certainly don’t have a camera in my face, knowing that my personal moment is going to be displayed publicly. To let someone into that space, knowing that they’re going to publish this hidden part of you, is a big leap of faith. And trust doesn’t come easy for most. So to gain the trust of the subject, you have to stop thinking of them as only a subject. Get to know them, their routine, their likes and dislikes, and form some rapport with them. Rapport goes a long way with any journalist, but it’s particularly important if you’re going to be reporting on a very intimate portion of someone’s life. They have to trust that you’re going to treat their story with dignity and respect, and you have to give them something to go on. It would be helpful to even disclose something about yourself, show them you’re a vulnerable human being as well. They’ll be much more likely to relate and open up.

In this process of getting to know your subject and letting them get to know you, you gather a lot of essential knowledge (the Five W’s), you take a lot of photos and experiment with different lighting situations that lend themselves to good picture quality, and you capture the emotion of each situation your subject (and possibly even yourself) are placed in. Then, that intimate moment will seem almost natural for you to be there, because you’ve been there. And all you have to do as a photographer is wait for it to unfold before you.

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