Sunday, May 21, 2006

Resting, Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa

As many as two million people celebrate the start of the summer street festival season by attending Tokyo's biggest, Sanja Matsuri, in the Asakusa temple district on the third week of May each year. Revelers parade through the streets toting heavy shrines called o-mikoshi, grimacing under the load in a traditional display of the individual suffering for the group. Afterward many, such as these two friends, can be seen taking some well earned rest and recovery on the streets.

Photography books often instruct the beginner that the common expression, "to take pictures," denigrates the craftsmanship and artistry of the serious photographer, who should in fact be said to "make pictures." This seems not only a bit self-important, but inaccurate. While the significant skill, training, and work required for real photographers in their craft should not be underestimated, the fact remains that while the artifact (the photograph) is "made", the image it contains is still something snatched from the world.
Even the photographer who chooses a model, poses them, and skillfully elicits the desired expression did not "make" their face. Certainly what is called "street photography" uses what is already there, with the elements selected and ordered by the photographer. "Take" seems closer to the mark. Photography is appropriation, acquisition, and therefore a selfish act. There is something not quite above board about it. Well known superstitions say taking a photograph of someone is stealing their soul. Such beliefs are not really so mysterious, since a photograph literally takes an image of the person and turns it into an object.
The motivations of the picture taker should not be assumed uniformly positive, creative, artistic. The photographer need not apologize for this, but ought to be aware of it.

Susan Sontag's "On Photography," incidentally, is recommended for a deeper and far more eloquent exploration of such topics.   Posted by Picasa


Post a Comment

<< Home