Out of curiosity, I looked to see if I could find my familiar Sadhu and on my first Google images search, there he was. Not only was he on countless websites, he was representing the word sadhu on wikipedia! Within a few clicks I was at the website of photographer Joel Santos, whose India portfolio contains the same man. I then noticed that Santos has a China portfolio and there were the cormorant fishermen mentioned in the iso500pix article. A quick look at his biography showed that he was actually an official Canon Ambassador (Explorer), not to mention award-winning travel photographer and teacher.
Does any of this still matter? Maybe not. Probably not. However, there is something that gnaws inside of me and in the last few seconds I have been able to connect two thoughts. I take photographs because it is a large part of how I explore the world, my thoughts and what it means to be human and alive. I am therefore most drawn to images that have an edge, or a rawness that belies something larger lurking beneath the image… that delivers another tiny fragment of understanding… where we humans (and animals) connect, even if only for a fleeting moment. Photographs are a means by which we can share the human-life experience, or even just the process of relating to the world around us and those we share it with. This is very personal territory of course and for others, photography is a very different ‘thing’. However, if travel photography is unrelated to what I have just typed, then what is it? Surely travel photography is about showing the world as it is (perceptions differing, of course) and not the world as created for visiting photographers.
For me, when images are manufactured, I feel that connection (and purpose) is lost, or was never of interest in the first place. We cannot delve beyond the image’s mere visual construction because there is no underlying (even subjective) reality aside from the staging itself. I wonder if such photographs are really any different to Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), where it matters, from an intellectual viewpoint? At no point was the movie Avatar presented as anything other than CGI make-believe, but photography carries with it different expectations (or at least it does for me).
I would be very interested to know what Garry Winogrand would think about all this. He did not believe that there was any point in exploring the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ of a photo, because we can never know such things in absolute terms. However, I suspect his interest in ‘wanting to see what things look like when photographed’ would not extend to staged photos. I agree that there is no absolute truth to be found, but the process of toying with ‘what is in the frame and what happened’ is undoubtedly applied to Winogrand’s images, regardless of his intent.
In actual fact, I nearly photographed the sadhu I have mentioned as part of The Disorder of Species project, around 2010/2011 He was asleep in the afternoon and a goat had discovered that the bright red and gold fabric tape wrapped around his hat was actually delicious. I could see the animal trying to tug it free from his head and munch it, but unfortunately the man woke up and swatted the goat away before I could take the shot. Nobody was posing in this case. It was therefore a brief moment of real interest between the hours the sadhu spent perched in conspicuous ‘pitches’ in hope of attracting tourists.
Another man with a captive monkey was also popular with tourists. Over the weeks I saw him many times and the point of interest was his relationship with the monkey. There was an intimacy between the two of them and an obvious interdependency. No posed photo would have been of value to me. What would it have shown?
Towards the end of my trip, I passed by his usual spot and noticed they were both asleep. I continued on my way, setting exposure and focus distance on my Leica MP along the way, then returned. When I reached them, I stooped down and took the shot in a blink and got a single frame. What had attracted me to that moment was the relationship, which was now visible in candid terms, in sleep. I had been touched by their intimacy, having seen them together many times. However, I also felt this emotional response run up against the fact that the monkey was not free to leave – Stockholm syndrome, perhaps?! This photograph raises another question: exploitation. In this particular case, would it have been wrong to take this photograph as they slept and not give something back to a man who clearly made his living this way? In my opinion it would have, so when I returned to the spot much later in the day, I put some money in his tin. Naturally, he thought I wanted a photograph with his monkey and started to get himself ready. He looked a bit confused, but quite delighted when I went on my way.
What are your thoughts? What have you witnessed amateurs do to create compelling images? Do you know particular cases where images or scenes have been manipulated and the circumstances of the shot misrepresented?