Thursday, January 11, 2007

shooting from the hip*

Now with a grumpy lady telling you to comment...

*Well, not so much my hip; more like just above my belly button.

First a few administrative details:

For those using bloglines you may get a sense of deja vu soon. I want to republish some of my posts with labels I forgot. So you've been warned.

Last night was much better, sleepwise. I'm somewhat more rested.

Since my photos were so popular in the last post, expect more. They may not even have the slightest association with the post...

world without aids

Crap. There was more but I've forgotten.

Oh yeah. It's International Delurking Week. I don't really know why I'm trying again, because it seems to me that my many regular lurkers are committed to remaining lurkers. But I will try again. I've mentioned before that I'm nosy. Really really nosy. And I'm dying to know about the people who read but don't comment. If you don't comment, I assume it's because I've angered you. Even though I know that sometimes I don't comment on blogs I read because I'm tired, don't feel clever enough, or sometimes I'm just intimidated. But there's no need to be intimidated here. And also no need to be clever. Just, you know, delurk. Pleeease???

(So this was where I was going to post a funny picture to try to convince you to delurk but Blogger won't let me post it. Bloody Blogger! But you can see it here.)

Ok. So on with the post I've been wanting to write for months, but have been struggling to find the words. I can't remember enough of university, so if any of you academic readers can help me articulate, I'd be grateful. (Oh shit, just realized this could be construed as believing that non-academics -- like me -- couldn't help me articulate, which I didn't mean at all. Help from anyone would be wonderful, obviously.) In the meantime, bear with my struggles please.

talk 2

A few of you called me ballsy or gutsy after my last post, but I'm really not. It's all an effort to avoid repeating past disappointments.

When we were last in South Africa, I was very self-conscious with my camera in public, I'd lost my eye, and I hadn't held a camera in years. (Maybe I should have put those in the opposite order but too late.)

There were many many things and people I wanted to photograph but I was too slow and too shy. Things like African women walking down busy streets carrying stuff on their heads, and carrying their babies on their backs. Things like the men riding on the backs of pickup trucks down busy highways. African people walking down rural roads, where it must be miles from any possible destinations.

I would get the urge to take a picture, but then I would stop myself. Not just from shyness, but from some kind of theoretical brake. I distrusted my interest in these people as photographic subjects, and felt like I was taking away their right to self-representation. I also felt like I was just buying into stereotypes of Africa, The Dark Continent. If I took their picture, I worried that I was not really treating them as fellow human beings, but as material for my voracious camera.

Somehow fragments of past university courses, involving postcolonial literature, and the figurative implications of photography, came together in South Africa, with its bloody history of racism and oppression. I expected to be treated with hostility occasionally, because of the colour of my skin (white), because how could it be otherwise? How could people who were oppressed for so long not feel some hostility towards people of the same skin colour as their oppressors?

I never once experienced any kind of hostility from people while I was there. Going to the Apartheid Museum, Robben Island, Constitutional Court, Soweto, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, and just listening to the experiences and thoughts of South Africans (you can read my July archives for more details on these places), this lack of hostility is incredible. I was amazed at the power of forgiveness, at the ability of all South Africans to look forward with a positive and open mind. I think I've said this before, but Nelson Mandela did an amazing thing to create a rainbow nation from the remnants of such a dark and bleak past.

Anyways, photography. People think the camera never lies, but it totally does. By necessity, it is exclusive. The photographer is always choosing what to put in the frame and what to leave out. A myriad of technical details add to the photographer's ability to shape the viewer's perspective and suggest conclusions about what's being looked at. When faced with the possibility of taking pictures of South Africa's people, I wondered, who am I to represent this person?

I felt better if I asked permission, but was invariably disappointed with the results. Most people change when they see the camera, become guarded.

When we were in Johannesburg, we stayed with Sugar Daddy's aunt and family, who had a live-in maid named Happy (the whole time we were there I thought her name was Hepi because of the way South African accents sound to my Canadian ears). She was a young woman who had escaped the horrors of Zimbabwe and she was trying to get a visa so she could study and begin a career. We spent quite a bit of time with Happy because the family worked and went to school during the day.

She was really sweet, and insisted on ironing our clothes for us. I felt bad about this because I don't even own an iron, but, man, she was good! Some shirts were still ironed when we got home, and were still wrinkle-free the next time I wore them the following summer. But she told me time and again, she doesn't want to clean houses for long. Her job situation seemed pretty good, and was mutually beneficial. She got a nice place to stay, and her hours were about the same as mine. One day, while she ate lunch, she read the paper. The light was nice and diffuse, the kitchen was clean, the paper was laid out and she had the kerchief-type thing on her head that she wore while working. The scene was just so peaceful. I went and got my camera and asked if I could take her picture. She agreed, but said she wanted to wait until she was wearing her nice clothes, not her work clothes.

The resulting photo was not at all what I wanted, and it's no great portrait. I'm really quite lousy at portraits, especially of people I know, but I will keep trying.

When I came home I profoundly regretted having virtually no pictures of the wonderful people of that country. There is no doubt that the landscape is stunning. But the people are even more beautiful for what they have endured, and the healing that continues.

Since I picked up my camera again in October, I have been asking Sugar Daddy for help in pulling apart these threads. Mostly, he has pretty quick answers.

He points out that the politics of representation are a problem no matter what the subject is. And he knows that my motives are good. He says that revealing the poverty that remains a major problem in South Africa is a good thing. That curiosity about people and scenes that are different from what I usually see is fine.

Today I took more pictures of people here in Guelph. And I tried shooting without holding the camera up to my eye, which I never would have attempted with my film camera.


I took this shot in an evil spirit... I really don't think that bag belongs with that jacket... and those boots. See? I'm mean.

I got some accidents (the sky, the top of the stroller, wonky angles), but I also got some gems. And it strikes me that these people are pretty disadvantaged too, I think.

plaid 2

I think perhaps I've moved forward. I'm hoping that my relative comfort in shooting these people means that I won't freeze up in the heat of South Africa this time.

I remember I only once saw an impoverished white person in South Africa. I wonder if there will be more this time? Some equality that would be...

hot dog stand

I felt really bad taking this shot while that guy had his pants tucked into his ass, but I did it anyways.

busted again

He was looking in the other direction when I put my camera to my eye, but turned around just as I clicked the shutter. He laughed, "I surprised you, eh?" My knees shook. He asked if I had money for a coffee and my trembling fingers made it difficult to get the change out of my little change purse. Then I found a toonie. I asked if I could take a closer shot in exchange (God, I'm relentless!) and he agreed.

nice toque


bubandpie said...

Do you use Safari? Blogger won't let me post photos from Safari today either, but I've got a free copy of Mozilla that I keep handy for just such occasions as these, and it let me post the De-Lurking pic. (My theory is that the pic is essential to the exercise - without official-looking images, no one will de-lurk.)

cinnamon gurl said...

I use firefox. But thanks for pointing out it was a browser thing. I got it up with IE.

Heather said...

Wow - just wow. Holy crap am I jealous of your trip - in my university days I wrote a thesis on the truth commissions in South Africa and the move to peace and reconciliation have always dreamed of going there and am more than green with envy. I can completely understand your wariness at taking pictures.

The photos you have posted though are fabulous- I'm a duty counsel at criminal court, and apart from a few pounds one of the guys is a doppelganger of one of our regulars.

Oh, The Joys said...

You know, I am new to you, but you were on my mind today. I talked about your guts in my last comment, but you inspired me...

K and I backpacked for 16 months in SE Asia, Nepal, India, Eastern & Southern Africa and South & Central America and I felt exactly like you described here about taking pictures of people. I didn't want them to think that I felt they, themselves, were tourist attractions.

I attended a Tibetan New Year festival in Kathmandu and all the Tibetans were dressed in the richest clothing...oh, I wish I had photos, but I don't because I was too shy and felt all the things you describe.

Today, driving through downtown to work, I was thinking about your photos and thinking about the way that it feels at least more permissable to me here at home...

I want to do it....

This is an INCREDIBLY long comment for me.

So. I'm yours now.

Beck said...

I love the picture of Mr. Togue Man, but I think you were a bit harsh on me in my new jacket and boots. I look hot!(not really me. am joking)
I think you're a very good writer and I think that you get your point across very, very well, but I know what you mean - when something feels so important and so sacred, I don't feel up to the task at ALL.

Stacey said...

I don't know if I count as a lurker because I have commented once or twice. Hello, I wandered over here from flickr, I think. I live in Guelph too. This is me

I had to comment today because the punk kid at the hot dog stand? I saw him downtown today too. And did you notice the guy in the black and white photo, with the weird hat, is the same guy standing with the punk guy at the hot dog stand?

(PS I read your blog because I like your writing, I'm not stalking you are anything. Though I am waiting for the day I run into someone from the guelph flickr pool.)

cinnamon gurl said...

Hey Stacey, I wondered who you were the last time you commented... thanks for the info!

Don't worry I didn't think you were a stalker. And no I didn't notice the same guy. Though I did notice him get up from talking to the guy on the bench so I went back to the hot dog stand.

Oh, the Joys, wow what a nice comment. Thanks!

Beck, LOL!

sewfunky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sewfunky said...

hey i found your blog from your flickr site and i found your flickr site from the sling picture :) You are a great writer and its so neat to see so many pics of our town!

How is the sling feeling? I am wishing for beautiful pics of you and E with amazing South African background for my gallery! :) I hope you have a great time.. T

sewfunky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sewfunky said...

oops posting a big geek.

Mad Hatter said...

Clearly no lurker here but I have a few things to say. I am an anglo-saxon by heritage. Through and through. I remember going to England in my late twenties. When I entered the British Museum I felt physically ill. I somehow felt sorta responsible, as an ethnic group, for the plunder of the British Empire--which is, as you know, silly b/c my people are poor farming people with roots in this country that date back well over a century. And still, there was that feeling...

The other thing I want to say is that what you describe about the politics of representation is something I feel every day writing my blog. Do I have the agency, the authority to use my daughter's life as subject matter for my writing? In the end, we have to appropriate here and there, don't we? It's inevitable. We can't only ever write about ourselves b/c even we are an amalgum of others.

Having said that, I know that some lines are clearer than others. I think you need to take your pictures and, so, you will take them. I also think that you will treat your subjects with integrity. It's funny, even the crass or mean-spirited pictures you show in this post, to me, carried a lot of artistic integrity and respect for the subject.

Sorry, long-winded Hatter again. I think I must make up for a dozen lurkers.

(BTW, it is really late which means I am not going to proofread and I know this will be a mistake. Oh well)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I delurked yesterday already, flushed out by your photos. I found your site via NOTsoSage Jill (I don't know how to link, but you know who I mean) and keep coming back. Don't mean to lurk, just shy, tired and feeling inarticulate. I live in NZ. It's 11:00pm at night as I type this, and my 2 daughters are asleep (they are Big Girls of 6 and 4). I have half finished art projects all over the floor behind me.
I love your pictures.
I also love Diane Arbus..
There's something, I think, in the mind or heart of the photographer that shows up in the pictures they take, and I love the ones that show Interest and acceptance.

Anonymous said...

Get down with your bad self, cin! keep the pictures coming; they are honest and eerie and beautiful, and i can't wait to see the ones you take in s.a.