Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Photographs

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends, a classmate from high school, enquired about what software did I use on my photographs or was what was in the photograph was actually what I saw. This was a very interesting coincidence because I had been contemplating writing about my work and my thoughts regarding photography in general.

I am not a studio photographer. I am not a commercial photographer. I am definitely not a fine art photographer.

I consider myself to be a photojournalist. I strive to capture and create images that tell a story or at least supplement the stories that I wish to share. Most recently, or rather over the past twelve years, these stories are mainly about people and their culture.

Looking back upon my earlier years this aspiration is entirely understandable. As a child, I was a voracious reader - mostly non-fiction. I revelled in reading of far away places and the exploits of actual adventurers. From my home in Groton, Connecticut the books transported me to Africa, South America, the Pacific islands,and the Orient. The wonderful books also transported me back in time to the time of explorers and adventurers. Supplementing the books from the school and local libraries were the family subscriptions to Life and Look magazines. Precious times were the occasions when I could get my hands on a National Geographic magazine usually at the barber shop. One benefits of living in a "Navy" town was the exposure to classmates who were from "far away" places such as Virginia, California, Hawaii, and the Philippines. hearing of their former homes and past travels, only inspired me more to travel and explore for myself.

My professional career provided me with extensive opportunities to travel. Many of these opportunities frequently involved foreign travel. I often used my work location as a jumping off point for travels further abroad. I made it a point to participate in local festivals as well as celebrations. Living abroad presented certain challenges such as adapting to cultures and customs that were different from what I was familiar with. One coping mechanism that I utilized was to "go native". Wherever I found myself I immersed myself into the local culture and sights. Of course these locations were not like America but that is, for me that made it so interesting. The more that I convinced myself and accepted that it was not America, the more interesting and fascinating it became. As I showed more interest and understanding of the local culture, the local people were more and more willing to share their life with me - greatly increasing my experience.

I started to take photographs when I was in the fourth grade, nine years old, using a rather large Kodak Brownie box camera. I saved money each week from my paper route to buy film and to pay for developing the black and white film. I bought My first 35mm camera while in college and used the former fraternity housemother's bathroom to develop film. Now that I am older, much older, my equipment is more sophisticated and embraces the newest technology. I now shoot digital exclusively which is good since professional slide processing is only available to me in Bangkok and they do not handle transactions through the mail.

Although I have the latest technology in terms of camera, lenses, as well as photo editing software, I have not deviated from my original philosophy regarding my photography. I strive to accurately and truthfully document people and their culture. As such I do not stage photographs. I do not direct my subjects to do anything specifically for the purpose of my photography. My desire is to capture the moment accurately as well as truthfully. I also minimize the use of Photoshop Elements to make only minor adjustments to my photographs such as to adjust exposure, white balance, and to crop. I do not add elements to a composition. Adding objects or elements to a photograph violates photojournalist ethics.

Quite often I will let subjects know that they should just go about their business and try to ignore me. I take time first to build some sort of repertoire with the people prior to starting to photograph them. I try to obtain their permission prior to photographing them. One of the best ways to build the repertoire is to just stand around and observe them trying to be as inconspicuous as possible - trying to blend into the background. I then share the first of the photographs with them.

On other occasions, especially in very public venues such as festivals and markets, I utilize what is sometimes referred to as "ambush" techniques. "Ambush" technique involves photographing people from a distance without their knowledge. With this technique photographs of people going about their day to day activities can easily be attained. I accept the responsibility of ensuring that the resulting photographs are not embarrassing to the subjects and truly reflect life.

My goal in photography is to show extraordinary people doing ordinary things. In so doing, I wish to show how different people appear, to provide a glimpse into other cultures, to celebrate the diversity of mankind, and to demonstrate that despite our appearances we are so much alike.

I would be more than pleased to learn that my photographs and blogs helped inspire or motivate others to go out and learn about their world.

Today I live in Isaan and have many opportunities to document the cultures of Southeast Asia through my photography, blog, and books. I believe that it is important for the diversity mankind as well as cultures to truthfully document and celebrate these diversities. We need to respect these differences and to tolerate them.

To the extent that I may be able to raise awareness and sensitivity towards these needs, my efforts will be justified. I am concerned about efforts to abolish or stop rituals and practices that more "civilized" or "advanced" societies judge to be "unjust" or "barbaric". However the subject of "cultural arrogance" is best left to be the subject of another blog at some future date.


  1. Allen, I find your lifestyle very interesting.
    You do well in the lifestyles/people side of photography.
    That is my weak area. I shoot very few portraits/street images. That is not my comfort zone.
    Keep the quality work coming I'm really enjoying it.
    George Barnes

  2. Thank You very much George. It is always nice to get positive feedback and even better when it comes from a knowledgeable source.

    I find it rather ironic that I have gravitaded towards the people side - I never considered myself to be a "people" person. I attribute my change to my first divorce. Good can come from any source or situation if we allow it.