Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Capturing a Soul

Can a photo capture your soul? As a photography enthusiast myself I often see people as portraits. The strong curve of a jaw, or defining eyes that speaks so much about who we are and where we have come from. As it stands though, the greatest number of my photos are landscapes. There is something very intimate about capturing a person's face on film. There is a part of me that sees it as an invasion. Many cultures of the world feel that a photo captures something of your soul and many artifacts and symbols are forbidden to be photographed. And, we also cannot forget that the Princess of Wales died because of someone's attempt to capture her image.

I am reminded of a photo from National Geographic of a young Afghan lady. A photographer on assignment in Afghanistan about twenty years ago captured the image that would capture the world. Her eyes are deep and agressive, her gaze insinuating. The photographer had intruded in her world and her eyes burn with the fire of a caged animal.

There is another very popular photo that you'll see locally in the souvenoir shops and dollar stores, it is called "Three Fishermen" or "Jolly Fishermen". This image is available on placemats, postcards, playing cards - you name it. It is a great photo that captures the heart and soul of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen. Two thoughts come to mind when I see this picture. My immediate thought is for the fishermen, who were standing on a dock in Norman's Cove one summer when a photographer from Nova Scotia had a quick chat with them and asked to take their picture. One of them grabs a Sculpin and holds it, it's mouth in a broad grimacing smile matched by the broad warm smile of the gentlemen. The photographer says he might like to print the photo; the gentlemen sign the photographers consent form... My first thought turns to these gentlemen because I know their story. I know that after signing the consent they never heard from the photographer again. They never gave it a second thought until they started seeing their images on the placemats, postcards, playing cards... They were never contacted by the photographer, they were not compensated in any way. Legally I guess they weren't owed anything. I'm not sure if there is a code of ethics among photographers, perhaps it was all par for the course. There does seem to be a blatant unfairness about it though.

This is perhaps telling of a greater issue in Newfoundland and Labrador; of the pieces of our soul, our resources and culture that we have allowed others to take and sell, making profit at our expense. I don't need to list examples - we are all to painfully aware of them- they jab our sides like knifes and except for the occasional twist of the blade we have come to ignore them.

My other thought is how we quite often fail to see the beauty and potential of our own culture, people and resources. Why have we consistently failed to capitalize on our own inherent wealth?

Can a photo capture your soul? I will continue to take my second-rate landscapes and let the quiet dignity of my countrymen lie undisturbed.

A footnote:

The photographer does have the names and details of the gentlemen. The two gentleman on the left have passed away. The gentleman on the right, I have met on a couple of occasions and I have a deep respect for him. He is very quiet and unassuming and worked a good hard life. The photo was taken in Norman's Cove near Chapel Arm in the 1970's. I wonder how much thirty years of royalties on numberous calendar and souvenoir products has been made on this image.


Table Mountains said...

great article!

BNB said...

Thanks for reading Wayne. I've checked out your brand new blog also. Those photos are great to see! Well written. I've linked it for a better look when I get off work.

The gentlemen with the sculpin have been on my mind for a while. Like I said I have meet one of them. He is not a person who would or could have read and interpreted a legal consent form. He does have some pride at his bit of fame but there is the underlying feeling of unfairness about it. I can imagine if this happened to me and I had no further contact with the photographer until I see my picture on a pack of playing cards at WalMart.

NL-ExPatriate said...

Love that photo!

Never realized the story behind it.
Do you think if a Native NL'ian took it, the out come would have been any different?

Ethiopia Eritrea Africa is one of those countries that believes that a photo steals apart of your soul.
I saw first had the looks photographers were given for taking peoples photo's.

Great Blog maybe in the future people will think twice before signing a waiver?