Make Me Look Beautiful: Challenges of Documentary Photography

Tully Locals
Oh to meet the Prince – By June Perkins – These two ladies loved their portrait!  Hooray it’s great when you have happy documentary subjects.  This was taken at the visit of Prince William to Tully and I asked them to pose.

Why would some people rather eat brussel sprouts with mustard and peanut butter than have a photograph taken?

Why do some people hug the camera as it if was their dearest long lost primary school friend that they haven’t seen in thirty years?

Is it simply that some people think they break the camera glass and have bud luck for the next three generations?  Many of us have a deep seated belief that some people are born for the camera – they are the blessed photogenic and never look bad in a photo.  (Tabloid professionals are always out to turn that one upside down.)

Or is it just that some of us don’t want the world to see what we looked like after our slim years?

Maybe it’s just that we don’t trust that camera person not to take an unflattering pose of us eating and then possibly throwing up after the peanut butter brussel sprouts with mustard.

Some people just don’t like the look of their face, their hair or just have to have makeup on; they want to control the way they come out on camera or the way they look now.  The struggle with the body image, and having time to care for the body  and feel confronted by the camera and resulting picture, not to mention that annoying camera person documenting an event and making them do this. (This by the way is not what the camera person is thinking.)

Have you ever taken what you thought was a beautiful picture of a person and had them say  ”Yuk I look fat in that or “I don’t like my face” or can, “you chuck that out please.”

Now have you ever also had a person on the other end of the scale say “Wow you made me look great”, “I look so strong,”  “I didn’t realise I could look just like Elle McPherson” or “Miranda Kerr.”

Thinking about this more deeply opens the Pandora’s box of what is beauty, but also what is the purpose of photography.  There are many purposes, capturing memory, documenting, finding beauty just to mention a few.

For me we don’t always photograph to make others look beautiful, but most photographers, including documentary ones, don’t set out to make people feel ugly.

Responses to an image are not always about the skill of the camera person,  but sometimes about how the person is feeling about themselves at that stage in their life. And people photography is not easy as you are dealing with psychology.

All this can make it tricky for the documentary oriented photographer.  Our goal to capture the beautiful moments in an event, the connection between people, the ecstasy and triumphs, and yes also struggles and sorrow and some kind of truth.  Is truth always beautiful?It can be.

We have to respect our subjects – and yet is respect always sticking with posed photographs – not all posed photographs are the most memorable ones.  It is the spontaneous moments that sparkle and shimmer and are strong in our memories.  Like images of a boy kissing a girl in a riot in Canada.

The portrait photographer captures inner beauty when they work hard.  They relax a person, collaborate, work with them and bring out what is needed to shine on camera.  For some people their relationship with the camera – for instance Miranda Kerr – is a dance – a connection of tango – and they just fit together.

For others any sign of a camera and they freeze, stop smiling, hide, move away, and do an anti paparazzi pose, and yet in relaxed moments their inner being comes out.  They are themselves, regardless of what they think about their weight, looks, anyone in my view can come across as beautiful on camera.

Anyway let me say the next time you start running from the camera at a family event from some photo crazy family member or friend, remember they are taking a photograph of you because you are special to them, cherished and they want to remember you in the moment.

Maybe the photograph won’t represent the seventeen year old slim you, but maybe you can take that inner angst and relax – it makes for a lovely photograph.

And as for you mad crazy family, community documenters, maybe you can learn from the professionals and coax the beauty and the joy out of others, and realise that part of your role is to educate people that even though we love Miranda and Elle there are all kinds of beauty waiting to be captured by the camera.  Also sometimes you just need to put the camera down and write the memory.

(c) June Perkins

Published by June

Writer, photographer, lover of unity in diversity in thought and humanity - poet by nature, world citizen

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