Change the World: Bit by Bit, Moment by Moment

Do-Not-Forsake-MeDo Not Forsake Me (Melbourne Australia June 2011)

One of the many wonderful things in my life has been the opportunity to meet and come to know so many fine people through social media platforms such as Facebook (don’t let anyone tell you that social media is a waste of time or ‘keeps us isolated’). And among these people are many many fine artists. Artists in all disciplines: painters, singers, musicians, songwriters, poets, short story writers, novelists, sculptors. And last but not least, I have met and come to love the work of many wonderful photographers.

Among these photographers is one I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Doug Berryhill. Doug is an American photographer who has been deep into documenting the people of his hometown. His photos are always finely composed, correctly exposed and all the rest. But way and far far above any technical expertise or even purely aesthetic considerations, Doug’s work demonstrates a clear and compassionate understanding of human nature, and in particular the people he knows best: those who live in his community. In my ever so humble opinion, Doug’s photographs will one day be recognised as not only an important chronicling of that community, but more widely as significant documents of our times.

But it is not his photography that I want to talk about here today; I want to share with you a post he made sometime recently about photography.

We have allowed the fractures within our societies to endanger our sense of a common humanity. Photography can, bit by bit, moment by moment, help to restore that. Photographs that draw me are those that compel me to see beyond the us versus them mentality.

This is as good a definition of humanist photography as you will find. And, to be honest, it is precisely what draws me to Doug’s photographs. And I think it is the same for all of us: we are drawn to photos that speak to us of humanity, of people’s love and joys; of their hopes and achievements; of their very ‘ordinaryness’. Not that anyone is really merely ordinary of course. But you know exactly what I  mean I am sure.

And a photo doesn’t have to be by a big name to have this kind of impact on a viewer either. Family snapshots for example. They bring joy, memories, smiles, tears, comfort and even happiness, to people viewing them. Then there is street photography, which for me at least is about bearing witness to, and the sharing of, the so-called ordinary moments of people’s lives which go unnoticed and unremembered. A street photo can stop a viewer in their tracks as what they see there acts as a catalyst for them to feel something; what they see prompts an emotional reaction. This happens simply by them witnessing a fellow human being doing something entirely ‘ordinary’.

So, that is what I try to do. I try to demonstrate the things we have in common, the things we share as human beings, by photographing individual people going about their lives. From the specific to the general if you like. As Doug said, moment by moment.

This is an important role to play, this bearing witness. It also carries with it enormous responsibility: I am required to be as honest as I can and to honour the truth as I see it without fear or favour. And, perhaps above all, I must do all of this (even to the technical side of things) to the best of my ability. If I can even for a few seconds connect you, the viewer, with the people in my photos, then I will be well pleased and I will know that I have done my job.

I will leave you with a quote (also found on Doug’s Facebook page) by one of the most important photographers of all time, Robert Frank, that pretty much sums up the street photographer’s job:

There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment

Peace

 

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