The reluctant predator

04Oct09

Another idea for my minor project was to photograph an elderly woman I know named Mary. I have known Mary since I was a little girl and have always admired her flare for fashion and glamourous appearance. I particularly enjoy the way she is so keen to share her old photographs. She looks like Audrey Hepburn, with terrific bone structure and poise. She is a little eccentric – once signing a Christmas card ‘with love from Marni (was Mary)’, but lately she has been ill quite a lot and is painfully thin. There is still something so beautiful about her though and I really wish I could capture what I see. On my last visit I took a camera with me and asked if she would mind having her photograph done but she wanted to pose and was not keen on me taking any images until her hair had been done. This resulted in posed images that were of no real interest to me. I tried to continue photographing after she had relaxed and sat down but somehow, despite the fact I’ve known her since childhood, the camera’s presence felt invasive. I don’t know what to do about this except to keep taking the camera along and eventually show her some pictures that she will like in the hope she’ll be more comfortable to let me take more. It’s a weird contradiction. I’m taking the photographs with love. I have nothing but admiration for her, but it feels like the camera is stealing something from these pure intentions, as if these portraits cannot exist with being somehow exploitative or voyeuristic in a negative sense, and I’m not sure I’m prepared to continue. So I ask; what is it we are aiming for when we take a picture and what allows us this right?

I recalled something I’d read from Sonntag’s On Photography, a quotation from Diane Arbus;

“I always thought of Photography as a naughty thing to do-that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it I felt very perverse.”  pg 12,13

I wonder how to get past this and whether this feeling ever really subsides?

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