Where I Teach on Tuesdays

I taught an after-school photography class to some New York City middle school students last year. I’ve been teaching classes in under-served schools like this on-and-off for a decade, and last year I started shooting with a phone camera. As I looked at what I’d seen, I realized I was photographing school archetypes and the way they illustrate containment and control of desires: the core of the middle school experience, and a cornerstone of education in general. More coming this school year…

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Graham Clarke’s “The Photograph”

The Critical Theory of Photography book club is wrapping up The Photograph, an impressive overview of meaning in photography. My margin notes said things like, “Don’t care,” “Do care,” and “Too tricksy”. It’s a good sign when I start arguing with a book I’m reading.

This passage stuck with me:

Far from being a ‘mirror,’ the photograph is one of the most complex and most problematic forms of representation. Its ordinariness belies its ambivalence and implicit difficulty as a means of representation.

First, we must remember that the photograph is itself the product of a photographer. It is always the reflection of a specific point of view.

I’m teaching a class on visual literacy for middle school kids, and I’m not sure that adults or children remember that documentary photographs aren’t windows.

The decision to work in a photojournalistic vocabulary conceals our influence on our photographs, because a documentary-style image is coded as “truth” in viewers’ minds. If someone sees a photograph that is obviously taken in a studio, that person is less likely to expect it to be true. But we journalists are understood to be truth tellers.

The simple fact of a photographer’s presence in a situation changes the way people act and impacts the story. We try to put people at ease and melt into the background, but we still exist, and we decide which of the millions of potential pictures to capture and transmit to viewers.

Not lying doesn’t mean we tell the truth: do we even have it to share? I photograph and edit to convey emotional and factual reality as honestly as I can. But I know that documentary photographs are compromises among a photographer’s thoughts, impressions, research, camera, location, subject, editor and light. My ideas, relationships, and subconscious landscape all influence what I see.

Photographs are magic. I love them but I don’t trust them.

A true photograph that I took.
A true photograph that I took.

And here’s Jo Lien’s response to the book, and its relationship to cliches.

Jon and Megan’s Connecticut Winter Wedding

Megan and Jon’s eye for detail was everywhere at their winter wedding, from red lipstick to the flowers Megan’s dad arranged to the short, chic Chanel wedding dress she picked out before she knew her wedding date. The couple even managed to get beautiful snowflakes to fall just in time for the portraits.

Megan and Jon were married at the Old Town Hall in Wilton, CT and held a reception at the Red Barn Restaurant in Westport.

The weather was cold but the toasts and dancing were warm, and as the bride’s family says, “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”

I was lucky to have fellow documentary weddings photographer Krisanne Johnson second shooting for me, too.

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The Mind’s Eye

I’ve just promised to read a book on the critical theory of photography each month this year.

It’s the kind of thing I always want to do but never think I have the time. But Jo Lien, a photographer and English professor in Idaho, created a blog circle and it was just the commitment device I needed.

We started off with Henri Cartier Bresson’s The Mind’s Eye, and the quote that stayed with me was this: “[Photography] is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”

I recently photographed a stay-at-home father and his corporate lawyer wife for my project on Women’s Work. HCB’s words helped me ignore my thoughts that I should be photographing something grittier, or breaking news-y, or farther away from myself. I feel strongly about birth and other kinds of women’s work, and it’s relevant to my life.

My head is curious, my eye is interested, and my heart is full when I photograph these things. So on I go.

Here are some photographs of Aaron, Miki and baby Oliver during their evening routine: dinner, bath, and a family reading of Harry Potter. A framed picture in their living room says:

The measure of a man is not the size of his
paycheck, the car that he drives or the
clothes that he wears.

It is the strength of his hands that hold
you close, the intensity of his smile when
he looks at you and the size of his heart
that will always love you.

I love you, dad. Oliver

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Feel free to read the other blogs in this circle, starting with Annie Morris’ post (her photographs are dreamy and beautiful, and she lives in one of my favorite places in the entire world).

All of It: Daily Life

Picking the kids up from daycare, training for a run in honor of a friend lost to leukemia, bathing a child – small actions that add up to a life.

(More photographs of Jen as a working mother here.)

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All of It: First Day at Daycare

But before she went back to work, Jen had to get through dropping her baby off for his first day at daycare. The morning was hectic and rushed, but everyone made it out of the house (and Jen remembered all of her breast pump supplies).

She looked forward to being around other people and using her intellect more, but she felt a strong pull toward her kids as she left them at a local daycare. Jen’s working two days a week now, but her days in the office are intense and the work tends to leak into her days at home with baby Wiley.

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All of It: Back on the Job

And then working mother Jen was back at work, running a press conference about discriminatory policing, speaking to members of the media, and pumping (and washing breast pump parts in the sink). Jen pushes herself hard at work and in her personal life.

She was glad to be back working on a cause she cares deeply about, but felt the pressure to get a long list of tasks done in the two days her baby is at daycare each week, and wondering if she could ever feel she was doing enough for her children and job.

(More photos of Jen navigating the expectations of career and motherhood here.)

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