from where i stand: the intimacy of photography

Several years ago, I was visiting a friend of my mother's, at a small get-together at her house.  At one point, she leaned over to the woman sitting next to her.  "This is Karen," she said, introducing me.  "She writes the most intimate details of her life on the internet."

I was a bit surprised, mostly because I've never considered myself a tell-all blogger.  But then, I realized what prompted her comment:  it's not my words, so much.  It's the photographs.

I mean, think about it:  whenever you look at a photograph, not only does your mind fill in the story of what's actually depicted in the shot, but sometimes you start to fill in the pieces of story that aren't in the frame ... what time of day was that taken?  you might wonder.  Was the photographer alone, or were there more friends around her just off-camera?  What aren't I seeing?  Each image is a glimpse into the photographer's life, and, inadvertently, an invitation to create a story around the shot.

Sharing a photograph, I think, is in some ways an act of intimacy.  And the interesting thing is that we do it all the time, without even giving it a second thought.

Take the very common hashtag #fromwhereistand, on social media.  A quick search of that tag shows folks all over the world taking photographs of, for heaven's sake, their feet.  I mean, people everywhere are doing this.  And really, how much are you seeing of someone's world when they're taking shots of their feet?  Three feet square, maximum?  

And yet, what could be more intimate that showing where you are right at that very moment in time?    

As an example, it definitely felt like I was sharing a bit of my world when I took a photograph of myself standing in the pile of dead leaves shown above, and published it on Instagram, even though everyone - friends and strangers alike -- who saw that photograph in fact had no idea if I was in a park, or my back yard, or even a quiet city street ...

... and weirdly, where I was wasn't all that relevant.  Because the story the viewer creates around the image is enough.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately:  the feeling of intimacy, of sharing that always accompanies a photograph.  It's for this reason, I think, I've always been so drawn to following photobloggers myself, to the sharing of life through photography.  Photography, for me, is like that "glimpse through the windows at dusk" -- photographs share intimate moments, without divulging the entirety of the photographer's life.  Often, when I'm drawn to an image, regardless of whether I know the photographer or not, it's not just about whether it's a pretty image.  I'm drawn because a great shot invokes a sense of connection.  A feeling of I know this.  I've been here before.  I know what you're experiencing.

And in the event I'm looking at an image that is completely foreign to my life, one that looks like nothing I've ever seen before, that connection has an additional component, and often it's gratitude.  Thank you for taking me there with you.

This is why I love photography.  And while I'll be shooting and sharing my own shots for a good long time to come.

"Obviously we can see what was in front of the camera, but if a photograph is honestly made, it's a bit of a self-portrait.  I think it's impossible for a photographer who is working honestly to keep this from happening."

~  John Sexton