Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Taking risks and living with the decisions

There are countless stories of photographers who question themselves about whether they should or should not press that shutter button. In some cases that decision has led the photographer to a Pulitzer prize. Others, to a controversial discussion about the ethics and responsibilities of the photographer. Photo ethics is even a topic of study for almost all photojournalism majors in college. Ultimately it really boils down to what risk the photographer is willing to take and then living with that decision after.

For most of us, as casual shooters not involved in the realm of journalism, the decision seldom, if ever, comes up. But it does happen. Take the events of 9-11 for instance. As the horrific scene of chaos unfolded almost every aspect of that day was captured by a camera. Not all of them were handled by professional journalists. I would even go out on a limb and guess the majority of the images from that day were from cell phones and point and shoots.

Large, drastic events that rock our modern world unfold in front of cameras all the time.Tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, war, famine, all manner of human casualties are fodder for the camera. There is an innate desire for all of us to "look at the accident scene" of life. We are visual people after all. It reaches a stronger emotion when we see the images of disaster rather than to read about them.

Then there is the question when we, as observers looking at an image that is so horrific and so emotionally charged, ask ourselves; "what would I have done in that situation?" As I said above, for most of us that situation never happens. But it could. Perhaps not on a grand global scale as a natural disaster or famine, but in smaller, more quiet ways. I asked myself that very question this past weekend. "Should I press the shutter, or not?"

"Lost Puppy Found"

The above photo shows a sad scene I came across this past week end. Obviously since you are looking at it you already know the answer to the question. You also know that I am taking full responsibility of my actions in posting it and making it public. But there was a good solid five minutes or so where I argued with myself as to whether or not I should photograph it.

I had just finished an outdoor workshop with students from My Naugatuck Adult Ed class. I was heading into Seymour when I decided I would pull off the highway and try to capture some of the Autumn colors in the valley surrounding Rt.8. I pulled onto a dirt road that traveled alongside this railroad track looking for a vantage point. I knew there were some rock ledges that had a nice vantage point. I parked my vehicle and started traveling on foot along the tracks. Needless to say, the rocks were too steep for me to bother with. That and the fact that I was getting torn up by pricker bushes.

As I walked the tracks I noticed there was something laying in the middle of the tracks ahead of me. I realized it was an animal but at first I thought it was a small deer. As I got closer I came to the realization that my sense of scale was way off. It wasn't a deer. A flood of sadness washed over me as I looked down at this poor little creature laying, as if resting, in between the two rails. Two things struck me right off the bat; one, there was no smell and two, there was no obvious sign of trauma to the puppy. It is as if it had been walking along, decided to lay down to rest, and died right there.

I actually took a couple of steps along my path but something made me stop and reconsider. I could continue my day, leave the poor creature to nature, and no one would be the wiser. It would possibly come up in conversation but soon it would recede into memory and be lost in time. I, however, thought, for some reason that's beyond me, that I needed to record this event. This passing of a small, solitary puppy out in the middle of nowhere. Images of 'lost puppy' fliers tacked to light poles ran through my imagination. That's what prompted the title to this image, and I'm not one to give titles to my photos too often.

I took three exposures. The one above was my final one. I stood up, put my camera back in my bag and continued walking. I passed him one more time on my return trip, not having taken any more photos, and returned to my Jeep.

Interestingly enough, all I could think of on my ride home was the story of the Pulitzer prize winning photograph of a young starving Sudanese girl photographed by photojournalist Kevin Carter. I had watched the film, "Bang-Bang Club" about the events in Kevin's life that led to that photo and how it ultimately led to his suicide a year later in 1994. While I can't put my experience on the same level as his, the fundamental thought process is still the same. "Should I press the shutter, or not?"

What are your thoughts?

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