Creating photographs, words, and connections

A great photograph tells a story. But a great written story doesn't necessarily have great photographs to go with it. 

Over the years, my photography and written storytelling have grown more linked. My best stories evolve over time as I internalize my experiences, and are often written later, using notes I made in the field. These notes add detail and can help create a more intimate reality. Photographs taken at the time can also help remind me of specific settings or people.

But the best photographs from a trip might not match the most significant story.

I met a woman on a river trip in Myanmar, and our brief visit will live with me forever. I have a video of her rolling chewing tobacco, and a picture of the two of us together. But I don't have an amazing scene that would tell you the story of her life in one picture. Most often, my deepest connections preclude photography, because I am talking and interacting with people, not shooting.

When I wander with my camera looking for scenes, photographs often come before I connect with people, or in the moment of connection. I don't consider myself a great portrait photographer, because I don't think I have the personality required for that art, for patience is a key ingredient, and patience is something I lack.

I have been asked if I get permission before I photograph people. I do sometimes, but not as a general rule. I typically acknowledge the person with a nod of gratitude or a smile. If the person does not want their picture taken, I will not persist. 

One place where I have easily captured portraits of people is India. I love how welcoming many people are, and how much they enjoy having their pictures taken.

 Women have to carry water long distances in tribal areas of Odisha, India, and sometimes are reluctant to be photographed at the source. This woman clearly didn't mind at all, and paused with over 40 pounds of water on her head to smile at me.

Women have to carry water long distances in tribal areas of Odisha, India, and sometimes are reluctant to be photographed at the source. This woman clearly didn't mind at all, and paused with over 40 pounds of water on her head to smile at me.

That used to puzzle me until the prevalence of camera phones led to people asking if they could take my picture. I find it easy to say yes, and I am usually flattered, especially when it's a handsome young man!

Looking at my pictures, I can often trace the path from surprise or suspicion to acknowledgement or connection. While for many photographers that is the moment that initiates the photography session, for me, it will initiate the final photograph, and the moment that will start the shift to whatever level of personal connection I will have with that person.

This is probably the first time that my writing was initiated by my photographs. I hope as I continue to combine my stories and images the marriage will be fruitful to both!