Giving thanks: the girl on the merry-go-round

I had an interesting memory tonight and it goes like this. I
don’t know her name and I don’t really remember what she looked like but I
strongly remember what she means to me: the first and very lasting application
of psychology to my photographic work. Up until the point that I met her, I’ll
call her Claire, I was a total landscape/fine arty photographer who never really
tried to photograph people. I was awkward and shy.  Regardless, I was given the assignment by my
intro to Photo-J teacher to go and photograph a stranger; which was a
horrifying thought for me at the time.

I timidly walked about the neighborhood with my camera for looking
for someone that I had the guts to approach. For reasons that I can’t totally
remember there was this girl about my age on the merry-go-round that noticed my
camera and basically told me to come over and make photos of her. Well that
certainly got rid of my need to ask for permission, right?  So off I go and she is totally hamming it up
and mugging for my camera in the worst way.

For some reason this wasn’t what I wanted and I was kinda
bothered by her enthusiastic but un-honest presentation of herself. However I
had the idea that she would keep being a fool for me for only so long and then
she’d tire of all the stupid posing and would eventually present a real moment for
me. It was a waiting game. The problem was that I only had two rolls of film in
my pocket and she had a seemingly endless supply of silly faces and deranged

The real game began. What I did was to take a roll of film
and put it in the camera but not load it. I would point the camera, wind the shutter
and snap away. After a while I’d open the back, remove the roll of un exposed
film and then put the same roll back in only to do the same thing: make
pointing and clicking movements without actually exposing the precious film
that I had.

After about maybe fifteen minutes of this mutual silliness
she did what I thought: get the pretense out of her system and I began to
actually expose the photographs that I really wanted to make.

I’m pretty sure that my photos from that day, by my current
standards, were horrible but I listened to my inner voice which told me to
humor the subject and wait for the legitimate moment – the honest moment rather
that what the subject thought that I expected.

I still do this kind of thing: take photos that are destined
for the great delete bin in the sky because I don’t want my subject to know
which moments during our brief time together are the ones that I truly value. I
will click and click away knowing that much of what I am shooting is total
crap. But between the crap images are ones that I like and the ruse that I
employ makes much of the good stuff happen.

So Claire, if that’s your name, thanks for helping me  learn that even clowns have real tender
personal moments when they finally get out of character, let their guard down
and become humans again. It is the job of I, the photographer, not to take the
images that you want or expect but to wait and be ready for when your silly
mask comes off and the person briefly emerges. That is worth all the effort.

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