Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When a Photographer Cannot, Should Not Share Their Own Images

What does photography mean when you can't share your images?  We've become a society that over shares both personal and professional images, leaving little room for privacy.  I'm definitely guilty of over sharing.  I have a flickr account, post pictures on facebook, and post information on my blog.  In the last few months, I have drastically decreased my amount of sharing, mostly of images, on all of these sites.  The truth is that not everyone needs to see all of these images.  Some are meant for friends, some for family, and some are meant for no one at all.  Plus, I think that having too many images available for the general public could decrease interest instead of invoking interest.

The way I use photography has drastically changed for me.  When I first starting shooting, my primary focus was on getting the great, interesting, __(fill in the blank)___ image.  It was all about what I could capture.  Once I shot, I would share my images online with others.  I would get nice feedback about my pictures and developed some wonderful friendship through the use of flickr.  Then I stop posting.  Even though no new pictures were up my site continues to get hundreds of hits.  I still get the occasional comment and favorite tag, but it doesn't mean as much to me anymore.  What I am interest in is how I can use my photography and social work to help others.  And I think I've finally found a way to do this: by providing free family portraits.  I can't take credit for the idea, that would go to the folks at Help Portrait.  But I am responsible for keeping the spirit of the project going even after it ended.

The family portrait project I have been a part of has changed and challenged all of my previous views of the functionality of photography.  At this point, most people have heard about the Help Portrait project that took place all over the world on 12.12.09.  The purpose of the project was to offer free family portraits to families that might not be able to otherwise to afford family portraits.  The project was a huge success.  Most of the families we shot had never had a professional family portrait taken of their family.  The family were thrilled with their images and my photographers were just as moved by the opportunity to use their skills to give back.

Due to the population we were worked with, the images did not go public nor will they go public.  All my photographers were asked not to share these images on public website or to use them in their portfolio.  As far as I know, everyone has been okay with this request.  They understand why we are not sharing the images.  

What does it mean to be the photographer that took an image, but not be able to share the image?  It's a new question that I've been tossing around.  For me, the confidentially of the family I shot is way more valuable than a few views and comments on flickr.  I can definitely feel my social work ethics and values coming through with this project.  The hardest part about not sharing the pictures are that they are so powerful and so amazing.  I want to share them, yet I know I shouldn't/can't.  The only time the images were shared was when the pictures were given to the families.  I can't share them, but the family can do wanted they want with the pictures.  It's a strange feeling not have control over your own images.

On January 30, I'll be organizing my 2nd free family photo shoot.  This time it will be at a Pediatric Hospital.  The rules and regulations around the images are going to be even stricter than my last shoot and after meeting the children and staff, I completely understand.  They want to protect the children, which I can't argue with.  Individuals and families "at-risk," "in need," or whatever you call it are frequently exploited through images.  Images are so often used to show suffering, need, and the inability to care of oneself instead of showing the power and strength in individuals and families.  It really saddens me that images are so frequently used this way and how little trust people have in how photographers use images.  

I hope to help change this perception of photographers and photography.  I want my images to show people's power and beauty, no matter what their circumstance.  

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll have more to say after the shoot on Jan. 30, when I can share stories and experiences, but not images.

I will include one image in this post. It's of my amazing team of photographers that volunteered their time and skills on 12.12.09.  It was an honor working with each and every one of them and I hope to work with them all again in the future.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Really well said. I was in total agreement about not sharing those photographs with Flickr, on FB the world. Those were really personal moments with people who put their trust in us to do what we said we would - take their family portraits.

I can tell you that I also took a step back from Flickr and posting. Like you - it was nice to post images and gain feedback and of course reciprocate.

But I just felt like I was getting away from where my love of photography - taking a beautiful yet meaningful photograph. Instead, I found myself posting images just because I felt I had to.

I can relate to your desire to combine two very personal things you love - your social work and photography. I would love to use my work in a more meaningful way as well and would like to get involved in something I feel really passionate about that creates social change or gives back to the community.

As you know I am sorry that I can't make it for the 30th but I do hope that I can participate in a future family portrait day soon....