I remember 15 years ago when I use to see people everywhere talking about the democratization of information and learning thanks to the internet, along with the democratization of expression where anyone can share their knowledge and opinions. The free information accessible to all. It's ironic seeing fake-news and conspiracy theory popularized nowadays.
When I was about 14 years old, in 1997, bullying and other sort of offenses was considered kind of normal, at least in my neighborhood. Often such kind of provocation wasn't taken seriously despite of verbal aggressiveness. This kind of communication was somehow the standard nevertheless, meaning people verbally attacking and defending themselves with further attacks. It was in Sao Paulo (Brazil) which I believe to have an aggressive communication culture probably because of socio-economic gaps, along or as consequence of social segregation and prejudices. Prejudices often disguised as jokes.
In a weekend when I was returning home, I met one of my friends arguing with a bunch of other guys a couple of years old than us. They were calling him stupid and laughing at him because he said Alberto Santos-Dummont was the inventor of wrist watch. This was an information that I also believed to be true but back then I would never waist time and get angry trying to convince others about what I believed to be true. Maybe because life seemed to be already too stressful back then that I would rather avoid any more of it. So I called my friend inviting him to hang out somewhere else, and somehow helping him to distance from the situation he was in. Still stupefied while we were walking away, he was explaining me the other guys didn't want to believe on him. I replied to him suggesting to let it go. At that time I had not conceptualized it but I felt that there are many people who are not curious and interested to know things but only in self-affirmation. I feel I am right so you must be wrong (It has something to do with identity that I will expatiate in an other blog post eventually). Without any real argument to explain they are right they rely on verbal violence by offending and making the opponent angry, in order to feel as the winner of the argument. Honestly, this kind of conversation and its violence is what I see being popularized the most in the internet.
Recently I have been wondering if we really can teach others. My thinking is that probably people only learn things if they want to learn (curiosity or duty) or if the situation is conducive to learning. If such thinking is somehow true the goal of teaching is not only providing information but also help to create the situation that is propitious for learning. And this may be the reason why the internet is dominated by fake-news and conspiracy theory believers. A place where everyone can spread ideas of any kind in a moment of economic and, consequently, social distress.
When I began with street photography I was apprehensive about people reaction. What would they think? What if they get angry? I then thought that if there are others doing it I can do it as well. It was in Ireland where I had the mostly friendly strangers experience ever but my first attempt of stop someone and ask if I could take a portrait of them was considered a shameful failure by me at the time. What my subject said that made me feel ashamed was a single simple word: "No". So I went home frustrated for not obtaining what I was expecting. I watched some videos about street photography and one hour later I was in the street trying again. This time I told myself to not expect anything. If people says "no" it's ok and there is nothing wrong about it. Actually, we are supposed to take risks in order to learn and grow, in order to see what is possible and what is not, and in order to loose ties to expectations that narrow our perception about things. With this twist of mind I endured a couple of other "no"s before hear a "Sure". From that moment on I felt there was nothing to worry about.
With experience I learned to improve my communication. Being more direct and specific, ask as a suggestion or as an offer and not as a expectation or demand. One of the main reason of violent communication is the thinking that what others are asking is an order instead of a request. People hate to do things when they are demanded to and the natural reaction is to reject. On the other hand we all like to feel useful and helpful. Antonio Damasio tell in his book Looking for Spinoza that our brain produce Serotonin, which gives us a well-being feeling, when we help or cooperate with others as a team. It's part of our empathy which make us place ourselves in others shoes, sensing others emotion and feelings as our own.
Marshall Rosenberg, who wrote No Violent Communication, tells a story about an interview with a Nazi war criminal, who was asked "Was it hard to send ten of thousand of people to death?", which he answered "No, it was easy. Easy because our language makes it easy". He then explained that his fellow officers had a name for this language: Amtsprechen, the bureaucratic language. A language that denies option, consequently it denies responsibility. It is interesting to know that there are many people who can not distinguish between rule or law and morality, which is the same as distinguish can and can't from should and shouldn't. When we try to obtain some kind of alternative collaboration for a solution which would help make all the parties happier or less stressed such kind of people are not able to do it, they start quote what they believe to know about the law and their rights, meaning "I can do it so I will not do what you what me to do". Basicly they view others request as demand and in return react in a defensive way. They don't understand the saying "Just because you can do it, it doesn't mean you should do it (in consideration of others)".
In Ireland, after I got used to it, most people I approached was happy to let me photographing them, which they saw as a request which they could help with. In Germany most of my attempts with street portrait result is rejection, some people even get angry with my approach and can become verbally violent. I see it as a social phobia, worry that I want do something bad with the photo such as judge them or use the image for commercial purpose. worry about what might happens with a photo someone took of them, where can it end and who can see it. Worry about my approach has a second intention such as sell things, demand money or sexual intention when I am approaching women. In short, a lot of expectations which place people in the fear zone.
I think the coolest Germans are in Hamburg, although I have not been in most German's region yet. It was in Hamburg that I met Lucie Nechanická. We used to meet and wander in the streets to photograph it together. When she saw me approaching strangers asking if I could take their portrait she looked apprehensive, saying that she would not feel comfortable doing it, which reminded me when I was attempting it for the first time in Dublin.
Even still doing it in Germany I didn't feel as confident and easy as in Ireland, so I approach people with less frequency. But have Lucie on my side was different because she is a woman transmitting other women a sense of safeness with my approach. They actually became more friendly thanks to her. It was most evident when I was waiting Lucie in a train station and around me there were other people waiting to meet their friends. I saw a woman with a cool outfit, nice hair and interesting tatoo on her leg so I came to her asking if I could take her portrait. She looked at me with doubt and unsure but suddenly Lucie arrived saying "you don't waist time" to me. After my subject saw Lucie and realized we knew each other, she readily accepted to be photographed.
Street portrait in Hamburg is much easier than in other places I have been in Germany, but people still have some kind of fear about other people reaction. It's a different world than in Ireland where I could talk and photograph most people specially women without any tension, and I think it reflects in the way people communicate, in their expectations and consequently in how they learn and perceive other kinds of experiences.
Unlike when I was a boy, I have recently engaged in useless argument with people who didn't want to believe on what I was saying (in the internet), consequently I was annoyed and offended with others provocation, calling me stupid and names. Later on I was wondering why I was behaving like this. What changed? Did I forget my youth knowledge? And the only thing I could think about was my reality change, which created different expectation and frustration, therefore changing my experiences and learning. I am now in a process of no violence redeem.
Among Mountains in Switzerland
This image is from a walk among Switzerland mountains, a couple of years before moving to sought Germany. This was one of the experiences that convinced me to move to Sough Germany, not only because the fast travel to Swiss Alps but specially because I wanted to have more contact with nature.
This photo don't cease to please my eyes and I believe it is not only because of the beautiful white mountain in it. The contrast among colors - the blue sky, the white snow as well as silver color of the mountain and the dark green three in the foreground - is defensively a big factor for the visual pleasure in the image. The green foreground contrasting with a completely different landscape in the background suggests there is something beyond to be reach that feels kind of alien to us - to where we find ourselves. It is this feeling of strangeness, beyond and not accessible [yet] that generates the feelings we call passion - The curiosity and desire to access of what feels alien/mysterious to us. I believe this contrast of landscape, which suggest where we are and a place beyond and completely different, provoke a kind of visual - and so corporeal - memory of the passion feeling.
An other aspect is in the composition of the elements and framing. The diagonal line crossing the image and dividing its foreground and background is visually very pleasing to me. Not only because it creates it is the delimitation of the two different landscapes but specially because it separates the right (tree) and left (mountains) elements in the image. In short, it help our eyes naturally descant through through the image, the tree, the foreground landscape, the mountains in the background, the sky and back again. Such kind of visual "travelling" is the pleasure we aim through the work of framing and composition; A pleasing visual exploration and experience.
I took this photo with film negative, which I prefer because it doesn't distract me from the visual experience and contemplation of what is in front of me; No screen in the camera to check how the photo look like. The manual camera makes me pay more attention to light, texture and colour shades in order to better capture the image.
The photography field attracts many technology and machines enthusiasts who come with the technicist attention to it. I see it as one of the reasons for the commercial photography to be seen and used as standard or reference for quality among many people interested in photography (although the debate on preferences between perfectionism and rusticity has existed since Ancient Greece and probably even before). The other reason is the fact that commercial photography dominates our visual experience wherever we are through publicity. Commercial photographers are mostly technicians who create images based on someone else's ideas. Most of it is technical reproduction and solutions, even the advertised photography in fashion magazines that mimic conceptual fashion photography. Depending how alienated the photographer is in this approach to photography he may come to the conclusion that what goes beyond such technical and commercial standards is poorly executed or wrong.
Fortunately photography is not a black and white thing limited to right and wrong. The meaning of anything is in the context. When we talk about quality we have to think about the context and meaning the work has. Commercial photography has its context and language, its main purpose is the tangibility, making the product or service presented in the image as tangible to the viewers, as if the spectator can touch and possess the object in the photo with their eyes. The visual sense appeal. It could not be different when the goal of the image is to sell a sensual joy to people's eyes and stimulate possession desires. As John Berger says in Ways of Seeing, The publicity image offers an alternative for the public, a better version of themselves, that they can obtain for the price of the product.
Photography that has other purposes will, or should, use other languages. The language that fits its message and context and which can be many. None of them are better or worse than the other nor more or less correct. Each of them are only good and bad based on their own context, public and message.
Siri Hustvedt in her essay "Playing, wild thoughts, and novels underground" refer to writing in this quote but it actually applies to any kind of artistic work: "There are no rules for writing novels. Those who believe there are rules are pedants and poseurs and do not deserve a minute of our time. Modes of writing and various schools come and go: Grub Street, Naturalism, the nouveau roman, magical realism. The novel remains."
When I photograph I often stay away from the sensual appeal, which used to be called as “sense corruption” by Cicero in ancient Rome, because it works on provoking anxieties. Instead I like to express my feelings and experiences. Technicality is about having control, the technical control of a machine precision appreciated from automated tools, catching our attention for the tool settings and control for the precise control result. In order to better express my feelings and experience I rather let this technical control aside, I take the advantage of the manual control which comes with my spontaneous human touch and failure. Or even when using automated tools, trust the automated failure as my own human failure with the machine, assuming therefore my sincere experience and adding it to the narrative context where it belongs.
Brené Brown, who wrote The Gifts of Imperfection, explains that it's important to understand the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism. “Healthy striving is self-focused: "How can I improve?" Perfectionism is other-focused: "What will they think?”. And I think it's important to remember that we should improve in relation to ourselves in our own language, context and message. Not in relation to a predetermined standard or have somebody else as reference of improvement goal/quality. This is not the same as being inspired by other creators and their works, because we all get inspiration from other creators, even unintended, in any way.
At the end, I don't want the viewers of my photos seeing themselves transported in the image by provoking anxieties. I want them to take the image as a memory or dream that inspires their feelings and contemplative imagination. Or at least tell us what or who we are, or who I am.