Slowing Down

Not in the sense of using a film camera, or even just taking more time on each photograph. I agree that a film camera can help to slow you down, to make you consider each image for carefully, to compose more precisely and thoughtfully. Or you can choose to do the same with digital, it just takes a lot more discipline.

That’s not what I mean here, although it’s probably related.


I’m talking about the time we take before we even consider making a photograph. Of documentary photographers that get to know their subjects, over days or months or even years. Of photographers who visit their subjects first without even taking a camera along with them. Taking time to get to know the subject, and for them to get to know the photographer, before making images. Allowing a relationship to develop, or at least to start.


Those are typically long-term projects, with big time commitments. But the same applies to short-term assignments too I think.


I made exactly this mistake this week, photographing an event. It’s natural to want to get a few photos ‘in the bag’ early. There weren’t many people there, so I immediately felt a pressure to make the most of any opportunities. I’m part of the community that I was photographing so there wasn’t the feeling of being an outsider. But still, and especially with hindsight, I should have allowed space for conversation and interaction first.


The great Mary Ellen Mark talks about families and individuals that she’s known and photographed for years, returning to make further portraits. People that know and trust her. I love that commitment and dedication and the willingness to allow that depth of relationship. Not just for the access it provides, but for the human connection and the integrity of letting someone get to know who you are as well as getting to know them and how you might choose to reflect that knowledge in the images you make together.


It’s harder now. With COVID-19 and masks and distancing. But not impossible. We can still make time and choose to be patient.



Healthcare workers at Jersey City Medical Center



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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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