Beginning to photograph

Tuesday April 24th, 2012 by 3 Comments

‘It seemed preposterous to me that I could ever say anything authoritatively about my subjects or the culture as a whole’ (Paul D’Amato)

Although I have had this project in mind for some time, when I think about it, since as long as I came back from China in 2009, it still wasn’t easier to start than any other project I’ve worked on. Initial excitement soon gets infected by doubt, lack of confidence, ethical concerns, issues of censorship, and ultimately, of identity -my own as simultaneously a photographer, a facilitator, and a friend but someone who must keep one foot on the sidelines, who belongs and doesn’t at the same time.

At the time of starting this work I came across the journals of Paul D’Amato from his incredible, encompassing ‘Barrio’ project documenting the Mexican community in Chicago. Reading through his words resonated with me greatly, in fact I read through the whole thing one evening. Through this I gained reassurance, guidance, and a huge amount of respect for someone who has opened up and shared their thought process. It offered a new context for the images from his Barrio project, I felt like I knew the people so much more, like I was there with the photographer wishing him to keep at it, to keep going, do more, be more, feel more, and do it all over again, never giving up.

From Paul D’Amato’s Barrio Journal:
‘It seemed preposterous to me that I could ever say anything authoritatively about my subjects or the culture as a whole. Their experience wasn’t my experience – I could understand aspects of it, but I couldn’t speak for it. What I did know is that there are some places, not many, that have a kind of gravitational pull and I wanted to make pictures as close to the center as possible. It was at this point that the community opened up for me.’

It seems to me that photographing longer term stories is a battle of your own emotions as much as a logistical one. When everything seems to come together access-wise, doubts about the photography seem to creep in. I have been photographing now for just over a month, and feel at the cusp of something bigger, I am aware that I need to move on from the initial images I’ve taken, to develop more, start to build a deeper meaning, or maybe I just need to keep going for this to happen organically, to let the work go on its own journey. Either way the next couple weeks are going to be pretty exciting, with more regular meetings with the participants, interviews to be edited, and the processing of film from my past few shoots.

Paul D’Amato: Between, and behind the pictures. Excerpts from journal entries made between 1989 and 2002.

3 Comments on “Beginning to photograph”

  1. 1 Peaks and troughs | Ciara Leeming - words, photos and multimedia said at 2:38 pm on April 26th, 2012:

    […] as I started feeling that hopeful high that comes when you feel your luck is beginning to turn, this blog post by my friend Gemma resonated with me very much. It’s reassuring to know it’s not just […]

  2. 2 Zhuoer said at 7:23 pm on May 7th, 2012:

    I like the quotes, and can kind of resonate our feelings.

    But you can’t really understand full of anyone.

    Part of it is already beautiful.

    Like in terms of journalism, I like doing interview with people the most.

    You’ve got the chance to get close to someone’s heart, one’s story and how one’s experiences shaped him or her.

    That’s fasinating.
    Hope you enjoy your project.

  3. 3 Gemma Thorpe said at 8:52 pm on May 7th, 2012:

    I think you’re right Zhuoer, maybe we can’t really fully understand anyone. Like you suggest, trying to understand part of it is the most important thing. Thankyou for your comments and for sharing your thoughts, look forward to hearing more from you as the project progresses.