Photography: A hobby that speaks a thousand words

By Henrylito D. Tacio

After several frustrated attempts to pose a lady subject, the photographer remarked, “When I try to get her to look pleasant, she doesn’t look natural; and when I try to get her to look natural, she doesn’t look pleasant.”

This brings us to the subject of photography.  To some people, it is just taking pictures of a person, place or thing.  But there’s more than that. “Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be,” Duane Michals says.

A picture records history.  “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again,” Henri Cartier-Bresson reminds.

Famous photographer Edward Steichen is even more explicit.  “Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created.  It is a major force in explaining man to man,” he points out.

Not everyone has so-called photographic memory.  That is why photographers have to capture them through their lenses.  “All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget,” John Berger observes.  “In this – as in other ways – they are the opposite of paintings.  Paintings record what the painter remembers.  Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.”

Journalists like me usually bring camera whenever they travel.  We believe that a picture speaks a thousand words.  As Lewis Hine puts its, “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”

But there are events when a journalist forgets to bring his camera.  If that happens to you, don’t worry.  Relax and enjoy.  Someone advices, “There will be times when you will be in the field without a camera.  And, you will see the most glorious sunset or the most beautiful scene that you have ever witnessed.  Don’t be bitter because you can’t record it.  Sit down, drink it in, and enjoy it for what it is!”

Someone asked me what kind of camera a person should buy.  Any camera will accomplish the same thing.  “No photographer is as good as the simplest camera,” the noted Steichen said.  A person who buys a Nikon doesn’t make that person a photographer.  It makes him a Nikon owner.

I learned to use camera and started taking good pictures after meeting the multi-awarded American photojournalist Don Rutledge.  His photographs appeared in such prestigious publications as Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Ebony, Stern in Germany, Paris-Match in France, and
other magazines in Canada, Europe, and other parts of Asia.  He received over 300 photographic awards from secular and religious organizations.

“My main subject matter involved people, showing them in natural surroundings, lifestyles, and the variety of environments in which they live their lives from work environments to pleasures and relaxations, among others,” Don said during our meeting in 1996.

He came to the Philippines to do photography for an article which The Commission.  The subject matter was the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay recipient Harold R. Watson, who happened to be my boss at that time.  He had been to over 143 countries!

“I believe it is important to help subjects feel comfortable while photographing them and getting them to carry on their normal activities rather than stopping their activities and then smiling and posing for me to take their pictures,” he answered when I asked him some tips.

“The challenge has always been to search and see beyond what the average person sees,” Don explained.  “When we are young, we are filled with questions about things around us.  A child says, ‘Why is that flower red and that one yellow?  Where does the rain come from?’ And so on.  But as
we grow into adulthood, we usually stop seeing the details and much of life around us becomes accepted as is and often even mundane.   The excitement with photojournalism is that it will not let me do that.  I am forced by that challenge to look beyond what the average person looks and capture that moment in film for viewers to enjoy.”

Hearing those words, I was reminded by the statement of James Lalropui Keivom.  “It’s weird that photographers spend years or even a whole lifetime, trying to capture moments that added together, don’t even amount to a couple of hours,” he said.

During our time together, I observed that Don took a lot of pictures on one particular scene or activity.  On why he was doing that, he replied, “It is much like a writer or a speaker preparing an article or speech.  They write lots of notes from which the message is narrowed and developed into the final presentation.  I take extra pictures for that same reason.”  (With digital cameras now readily available, a photographer won’t have a problem following that tip!)

“In photojournalism,” he said, “there is constant change.  A subject is smiling, frowning, talking, listening, walking, standing, sitting, working, or relaxing.  Often in the background, while subjects are being photographed in the foreground, people walk in and out of the picture. Making choices as to when to click the shutter is constant and important.  The challenge is both difficult and exciting.  The photojournalist becomes ‘eyes’ for viewers and places those viewers into the position where he stood while making the photograph.”

To those who are just starting photography as a hobby or a career, he offered this tip: “New photographers can find excitement in isolating wonderful elements of our world and its people in that viewfinder of their camera.  That becomes the photographer’s world.  Outside that finder, beyond the moment of clicking the shutter, is of course a world in enormous size and activity but the photographer’s world right then is defined in the viewfinder and he freezes it to hold history as he clicks the shutter.

He continued, “His activity should be more than just raising the camera, looking through the viewfinder and just clicking the shutter.  That is a moment of personal history whether it involves special moments of his family or friends, activities of famous and unknown people, or even elements of nature scenes around him.”

“There are no rules for good photographs,” Ansel Adams stated, “there are only good photographs.” – ###

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