Sunday, November 11, 2012


I'm so conflicted about photographing people since the hurricane hit, capturing and documenting them in their time of pain.  

I watch journalists and other individuals photograph people in all sorts of situations: standing in food lines, gathering clothing, crying on their front steps, cleaning out their basements, in quiet moments on the beach. I just can't seem to make peace with either photographing them without their consent, or asking their permission.

This wouldn't be such a conflict if it was just a passing desire.  But, the desire is much stronger than that.  It's not just that I want to capture the moment, I want to immortalize it, to witness it and to share it with others.  Social documentary pulls at my very core.

Taz and I discussed this a few night's ago, and I also talked about it with a freelancer working for CNN that I met on the subway, this push pull of emotional responses.  Both Taz and Carols gave me great feedback, and when I'm in my house, I can rehearse the words they suggested and feel comfortable with them, but then when I'm out and I see someone who I'm drawn to photograph, I can't get past this inner conflict.

 They may not even be crying or in distress, just cleaning their yard, or mopping out their basement, or walking down the street, but I just can't get past the feeling that to photograph them would be to invade upon them and to ultimately be disrespecting their circumstances.

How will I ever succeed as a freelancer writer and photographer when I'm torn between my vast desire to document the people and the events here, and the debilitating desire to be respectful of them?

Is it disrespectful to take their photographs during these times?  Isn't it important to document what's taking place, so others know what's happening, so these people and these places aren't forgotten?  Is is worth upsetting someone by taking their photograph?  Why do I assume that it will upset them?  Why do I take it so personally when people say no when I do ask?  Is it worth isolating myself from them by even asking?  Will asking them isolate me from them?  What do I have to lose?  What do I have to gain?  And on and on it goes inside my head and inside my heart.

I've tried dedicating specific times in the days that I'm volunteering where I only volunteer and then times in those same days where I document.  This hasn't been very successful.  When someone needs help, I can't stand to the side and take pictures, I help.

It's an endless internal battle between my heart and my head, and I just don't know how to reconcile the two disparities.  And in the meantime, opportunities for incredible images pass me by on a daily basis and I'm getting increasingly frustrated and angry with myself.

Why am I holding myself back?  What am I not willing to risk?  What is keeping me contained in my safe cocoon where I don't risk anything?


Jan Garden Castro said...

This is an important consideration. Possibly take the photo and write down the exact time/date of the photo on a piece of paper and get a signed release on this piece of paper OR, if not, destroy the photo. That way you keep the spontaneity yet respect the subject...and can even email the image to the person...
cheers, Jan

gailo said...

Hmmmmm.... I'd let them know people can't help if they don't know what's going on. I don't know, Christina. It would be difficult for me, too. But if I were doing it for their sake, I'd ask.

Christina Whiting said...

Hi Jan. Thanks for your feedback. I have been contact info for random people I photograph and sending them the image. But these are people not involved in the hurricane, like when I met you on the beach. I like your suggestion, but the idea is for me to find my comfort in approaching people to take their photo. I definitely wouldn't take their photograph without asking them first.

Christina Whiting said...

Hi Gail. Thanks for your comments. Both are very true. And you bring up a great point. Is my purpose in taking their photograph to document it to share their story, for them, or is it for me to have a photograph, for me? That's a critical difference and it hadn't occurred to me that I might be being selfish. Thanks for making me think on this... I'll mull that one over.

Kathy Smith said...

I have been thinking about this a lot. I think you need to be respectful and ask permission to take photos of those you see. Perhaps your recent experiences have made you more sensitive to the plight of other people, and to their feelings. This is a good thing.
I so appreciate your blog and the chance to share in your daily life and the world of the people you are meeting and helping, Christina.
Thank you

Anonymous said...

When I went to india I had a similar feeling...for me is so much about intention...another thought: some cultures believe pictures take a part of the soul...your question is deep, it is is hard...I have every faith you will find the path that connects your heart and mind...and then what a force...on all levels.

Anonymous said...

A picture is worth a thousand words. Good luck with your inner conflict.

I appreciate learning from a trusted source. Try asking high self to high self. Moving to your highest spiritual place.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking about it. I have been through this before and in retrospect I would have taken that picture I would have missed, and of course helped first where I could--not because it would have earned me a Pulitzer, but because if I am to reflect on any kind of despair or devastation, the emotion it evokes, the tears that run down my face, like those photos from Nanking and what the Japanese did to the Chinese, I actually threw up. It feels so awful. I worry how people just get used to violence. I protect myself, and my daughter. But I would not trade anything in the world for the depth of empathy, understanding, and possibly wisdom a photograph, prepared with or without words, can invoke.
That is a human condition that will ultimately keep us connected to all around us. And it is this CONNECTION that is most important of all. A

Josiane Bauke said...

Christina, when I first met you a few months ago, a girl from Alaska walking the streets of the Bronx alone with an expensive camera taking pictures, I thought you were nuts. But, I must say, I admired your courage and tenacity. Unlike many people, you had a vision, a purpose and a goal. The smile on your face made that abundantly clear to me.
Although I am not a very religious person, I do believe that you are in the midst of some divine intervention. This is only a small moment in time and it will eventually pass. Your job, your gift, is to document this moment before it passes.

Anonymous said...

what do I have to lose? what do I have to gain?

I have been thinking about this topic, CONFLICTED, and I think:

If you have in your head this problem, then you don´t want take some photos.

You have taken many photos, and I suppose that you have not had this problem.

The problem begin when you see the pain of people, without homes, without stuff.

The problem is the same that when anyone is talking about me or somebody, then I and nobody wants to hear bad things about him but if you speak about me good, you can speak all day, then nobody wants to see himself in a photo surrounded by misfortunes,

then you must take photos about beatiful things, nice moments, interesting people...., and all in the midle of the disaster.

You cannot take photos about people in bad moments, because then you start to think if that is correct or no. Then you have to take a lot of photo about happy people with a skyline terrible, and NO PROBLEM, the happy people no have problems and your mind is free.

Hurricane and People: bad time, good moments.