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Old 02-07-2005, 04:18 PM
joseelias joseelias is offline
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Default Are we ashamed of ourselves?

I was going to reply to Sohrabs very interesting thread “TREKEARTH VS THE WORLD” regarding the bigger popularity of landscape photos vs. people photos, but some cultural issues came to my mind (again, as this issue was in my idea for sometime). In fact some were raised in that thread already.

My question is: why aren’t more people and daily life photos from Europe and North-America presented in TE?

Is it really the scare of being sued, or the violation of the privacy issue that limits us “westerns” to take more photos of people, or is it because our personal esteem is so low that we consider ourselves and our lives so uninteresting and not worthy to be photographed?

I truly believe the latest hypothesis is the most important one and use the previous ones as an excuse not to photograph ourselves.

For example, we all admire photos of Buddhist monks, Hindu ceremonies, etc. Why don’t we try to portrait the same themes in Europe or America? In the Catholic countries for example it’s relatively easy to find nuns, priests, look at processions with kids dressed as religious figures and religious events. We also have political demonstrations regularly. Why aren’t these portrayed?

We all admire images of Asians ridding buffalos in their daily life. Why can’t we capture people here running for a cab, jumping on and off buses, or moving like an impersonal mass out from a ferry? Many western countries still have small groceries and open air markets. Why aren’t these noticed?

And more, why are they the efforts of the few members that try to break this status so lowly “rewarded”? I know that looking at the unknown and the “exotic” may be more appealing. But aren’t we exotic to the other parts of the world also?

Or do we have such a western-centric vision of the world that assume that our way of life don’t present anything much interesting to the others, and especially ourselves? Do we assume that the others know “us” so well that it doesn’t worth to portrait us?

Finally, and the most controversial issue, isn’t this search for the “exotic” we’re living a bit of diminishing to the others? Like looking at rare animals? (I’m talking about the western vision of “others” and not that they are rare animals. Please don’t interpret this in wrong terms). Aren’t we all “exotic”?

Despite the interests of each other, isn’t the objective of TE to “Learn the World through Photography”? So why don’t we Europeans and North Americans try to show a bit more of ourselves?

Sorry for the lowly articulated ideas, but I’m also trying to figure out these ideas in my head also. Maybe you could help me and who knows show a bit more from us to the other parts of the world.
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Old 02-07-2005, 05:31 PM
Luko Luko is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

A bit unfair to some.

There are many photographers in Trekearth who picture the (western) country they live in.... take all street photographers in here : I'll name for instance Alex on Canada (randomcameraguy), Mike on Australia (MKING), Carolyn Anna on NYC (Carolynanna), Bryan for the UK (midnightsun), Pascal for France (pridel), Maciek for Poland or Wales (maciekda), relatively newcomer Lisan (Tongapup) seems to jump into that track too. I'm sorry there are so many I can't name them all, congrats to them.

There are many reasons for not shooting people in our own western countries. These are mine (although I shoot streetphotos in France and you'll spot some in my portfolio) :
- I'm always on holidays abroad, this means I have time to and aim at places where I know I can shoot. Hence I have more photo time available abroad than home.
- It's true that when you pass everyday through the same places you tend not to see anything visually interesting, your eye lose acutance at what you're really seeing, on the contrary you get your eyes open and ready in new places.
- Cultural issues. It's difficult to shoot people in France, they simply dont like to be photographed... although for wrong reasons. Western people have pushed their pretended individual rights much too far I think, they now think they can have rights on their own appearance (which is, let me remind it, what is in the viewer's eye). Southern Asia is pretty much the opposite, that's why you see many people shots from Asia.

Perhaps you could also put that on the criticers' back too. When you notice that any asian kid close portrait gets a zillion points whatever its technical merits while less exotic but nicely composed shots struggle to get critics, some photographers may want to stay into the darker side of the points (I know this is not a good reason but it's an explanation...).

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Old 02-07-2005, 06:39 PM
joseelias joseelias is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

Yes I know there are some exceptions. I th In fact I follow in a very interested way some of those members you’ve mentioned and look and critique them in a regular way.

Still, I feel that more could be done, with more people posting photos on these themes especially events like religious ones for example. What I pretend with this thread is not only to call some attention to a type of photography which is easily forgotten, at least here in TE, but also, to debate some of the reasons on why European and N-Americans don’t take more photos of people and daily life images. It’s just that I feel we’re hiding behind the law suits and other excuses not to take photos.

I think that the lost of acutance as you mentioned is the most important factor. People feel that what is around them is not that interesting and only what’s far are great motives for photographing. It’s a bit like the teenagers drooling over the playboy and not noticing that they have has beautiful school colleagues as the playmates seated by their side! :-)

Regarding some members submit to the “darker side of the points”, you may be right in some cases. I just would like to call some attention in this issue to see if things could change a little.

Unfortunately I have such a routined life that I hardly can make good daily life photos, although I would love to explore it more. I’ll start a small daily-life/street shots series soon to see if I can contribute a little bit from my part. In fact I think I’ll use the notes to alert to this matter… I’ve got my text now!

But damn… I won’t get many points with that series… ;-)
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Old 02-07-2005, 07:00 PM
joseelias joseelias is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

Just a little counting...

In the first page of Europe + North-America, in this moment, there is a total of 6 photos related to people (portraits and activities).

In the first page of Asia there are 11 photos related to people.
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Old 02-08-2005, 06:30 AM
tongapup tongapup is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

Of course I have to weigh in here 'cause that's the kind of mouthy girl I am.

Having said that, I think Luko really said it best. For me, I choose to take pictures of daily life in Toronto because a) I am too poor to travel much and don't want get out of practice, and b) more importantly, I'm motivated by the fact that I believe that people come to TE because they like immersing themselves in an exotic world; nothing wrong with that but it does result in a gooey reaction to pictures of little Asian kids that I sometimes am mystified by. I thought about that for a while, and thought, what if that were MY culture I was looking at? What if I were, say, Cambodian, would I still see the appeal of the photo? I began to really try to value the place where I lived, to see it through new eyes. It's tough! And that's probably why there are so few posts of this type: it's just damn tough work getting an interesting or captivating shot in the place you know best. Everything's familiar, and people on this site (primarily Westerners) want to come here to escape that very thing: familiarity.

Having said that, I'm soon leaving for warmer climes and hoping I'll feel inspired there...

I'm glad you posted the question though. It was much on my mind as well.
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Old 02-08-2005, 01:49 PM
joseelias joseelias is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

"I began to really try to value the place where I lived, to see it through new eyes. It's tough!"

Yes, it's tough, but it's also a very good exercise! It's an opportunity to try different ways of expression. How many of us have looked up in the places we pass everyday? This is a simple gesture that I'm sure most of us forgot to do. We only look at our eyes and ground level.

If the common focused, colored photo don't show what we feel than it's a good excuse to try blured, out off-focus, BW, whatever ways of expression.

But I also feel that we, the "westerners", don't value ourselves. I study anthropology and in the university there's allways a kind of speach that diminishes our culture regarding the more traditional ones. Like if we were not as legitimate as others and only tribal and "simpler" communities were "true" and interesting. And the so called investigators of the society seem to miss that we are all so alike and the main difference is the size of the communities and the technology each one use.

And these ideas pass to the society. Only what's colorful and "typical" is valued. We don't pass of something amorph, uninteresting and plain... How wrong they are!

I'm glad you've participated because I seemed to be missing your work which is very interesting. I'll take a closer look at it later.
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Old 02-19-2005, 05:30 AM
cgrindahl cgrindahl is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

This is a fascinating topic, one that I had intended to address in the context of Maciek's thread Telephoto is for Cowards. My question to that august group was how does it happen that most of them so easily take photos of folks on the street when they're visiting Asia, but so seldom do it where they live. This wasn't intended as a criticism but as a means to explore the question a bit further. But the matter seems related to what you are reflecting upon Jose.

I've shared with a member from India, that when I returned from a month in his country to my home in what is one of the wealthier communities in the United States, that I was very depressed for a few weeks. The only relief for me was spending time with others who had spent time in India. India is a magical place. Of course, I have no interest in conventional religion, but great interest in eastern spirituality, so visiting a country steeped in spiritual traditions has an added appeal to me. I'm certain I would feel the same way in Thailand or other Buddhist countries. And, it also means that I love viewing photographs that come from those countries, especially those produced by locals. I love a well done photo by TE members who visit these countries as well, but there is something alive in a photo taken at the spur of the moment by a local. They will usually be offering street photos rather than a grander vision.

Now, with regard to my own country. Since I'm a relative beginner behind the camera I am still finding my way. I've done a bit of everything since becoming a member, though I've done fewer portraits that anything else. As Luko says about the French, Americans are wary of anyone with a camera. I've told my stories about run-ins with the law, with security personnel. Mothers have pulled their children away when I've asked if I could take a photo. I get the evil eye often when I'm out and about with my camera, as though my gray beard automatically qualifies me as a "dirty old man."

I agree with your suggestion that we become more creative in how we look at the place where we live. I believe I do that fairly well. Yet, as Luko notes, there can be a deathly silence when some of those photos arrive on the board. I don't pretend to be a world class photographer, but I believe I do a credible job of composing and presenting photos. When they are consistently ignored it diminishes enthusiasm for the venture. I've no interest in the search for smileys and refuse to engage in the exchanges that insure high point totals. I have to find my motivation in pursuing what interests me, both behind the camera and while participating at TE. I'm content when folks whose work I respect see value in what I do, regardless of the subject I choose. At the same time, I'm enough of a student of human nature to know that "you can't push a string up hill." Think about that one for a while. There will always be folks who see beauty only in sunsets and mountain vistas, or who believe the only face worth celebrating is a brown one with a shy smile or large eyes peering longingly into the lens. These folks are not likely to take much time to appreciate a gritty street scene.

So, we do what motivates us and hang out with folks who share our interests, and gaze at our navels believing we somehow know truth. Hopefully, we're having some fun along the way. If not, it is probably time to move on. I'm still having a whale of a time both with my camera and on TE, so I'll keep on keeping on... ;-)

Great topic Jose.
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Old 02-22-2005, 03:22 AM
Rinie_Hoff Rinie_Hoff is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

I read this thread a while back already, and on and off I have been thinking about it. I recognize some things in what you bring up, Jose.

Basically, I think, like Luko says, you have more time to take pictures when you're on holidays, and honestly, places and occasions that you do not see in your own daily life, are more attractive, at least to me. Every day life in countries that are not so well known to me, tend to bring up more excitement, and will likely invite me more to take pictures of it.
I don't think it has something to do with being ashamed of my environment, (although when I compare for instance the dances in Indonesia, with absolute refinement, and I compare it with the folkloristic clog dances in the Netherlands, there is hardly any comparison possible. I indeed must admit that I do not feel very proud, but I do not know what the Indonesian people think about that).

The matter of having time is rather important. I have my job, it keeps me off the streets about 50 hours a week, I bike to and from work, so there's no chance of taking pictures in public transport, and I guess if I worked in the city center, I would probably take more street shots as well.

And yes, of course there are political demonstrations; religious display like processions are rare in the Netherlands, but I guess, if you look around, there are more occasions worth while photographing.
Anyway, I looked through my files, and from last year, when I just had my new DSLR, I have a few street shots, because I started a theme about Rotterdam people, trying to show TE a few of the 166 nationalities that Rotterdam houses.
And because of this thread I took my camera out walking last Saturday to try and take some of these shots, because I do like the question that you brought up, and I would like to try and bring interesting street shots. I will upload something in that spirit, when I think it has enough quality. I have one problem, I'm still a bit shy, to point my camera at people without asking, and them being aware ;-)
I do not think that people make big problems of their photo being taken here in the Netherlands, which is far different from what I noticed in Russia, and hear about the states.

I think I'm rather aware of my own environment, and I don't take it all for granted. Photography helps me in that, my eyes try to observe my surroundings as much as possible. But I definitely look at my world with different eyes, than tourists who come here for the first time, will stay for only a short period and will probably never come back.
Yes, I think in each other's eye, we can all be exotic, in the sense that we know and have seen too little of each other.

Thanks Jose, for making me think about these issues.
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Old 02-22-2005, 12:32 PM
RandomCameraGuy RandomCameraGuy is offline
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Default Re: Are we ashamed of ourselves?

I used to ask this question alot myself, and it is definately the case that people seem to shy away from shots of themselves in the West. But I think the biggest obstacle for most people is one of conflict.

While abroad it's easy to run from conflict because you don't speak the language and everything is foreign (and as a foreigner people give you alot of leeway). This is often abused when travelling because people act differently and less politely. This was a big prob of mine for a long time because I would see people with cams acting like everything was a show for them.

To take a picture of daily life (strangers) in the West has a big risk of conflict. People look at you and some will ask (or demand) what you're doing, and you have to accept this. I think this is why people generally shy away from it.

Anyways Jose, I have to apologise now b/c I'll be crossing over to the other side and taking Asia shots for the next little while (well, I live here now so there's little choice in the matter!). Sorry man. But I promise more shots from the West---in about four months! ;-)
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Old 02-22-2005, 08:37 PM
cgrindahl cgrindahl is offline
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I"ve posted two photos chosen in response to this challenge. Of course, I've not traveled since joining TE, so all my images come from the United States. But I've made an attempt to post photos with the intention of saying something about this country I call home.

The first photo entitled Shopping Mall shows four young people in front of a brightly colored display window. Like any creator, I feel it is a well composed and presented photo with an interesting note. Three people enjoyed it enough to offer smileys. What is interesting to note, however, was that while I was sitting on a bench watching for photo possibilities a large black man confronted me, asking whether I'd taken a photo of his young daughter, who was perhaps three years old. Men with cameras taking photos of kids can be in trouble in this country. I saw him talking to the clerk in a store near where I sat and fully expected a visit from security.

The second photo entitled Showroom depicts a car sitting on a showroom floor, with another car in the distance. The note speaks about American fascination with automobiles. Fine photo, an informative note that received three comments. But no one deemed the photo worth critiquing.

My experience has been that one must work very hard to receive attention for photos that aren't in some way exotic. That effort includes writing a great many critiques of other folks and pursuing the classical subjects most favored by various members. One must have serious commitment to pursuing the photography that suits your creative preferences and let the chips fall where they may. There are some among us who do that. I have great respect for them. The challenge is to find one's own truth and then to pursue it with joy.
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