What kind of tools do I use and why? (Part one)

I am finishing up a great workshop in Guatemala, which has been both fun and also challenging. As photographers, we had some in depth discussions about problems that we had to resolve so we could make our photographs, discussions which I thought would interest other photographers. (This is the first of two entries on what kind of tools I use.)

I actually think of all photography as problem solving. I think that there are three major examples of what I call “photographer’s problems:

• How do you get the person, place or thing that is in front of the camera onto the film, chip or paper in just the way you want?

• Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

• How do you get paid to do what you want to do with your photography?

There are of course, millions of other problems when photographing, but I think of these three are the big ones, and they apply regardless of what type of photography you are working in.

In Guatemala, one problem we had to solve was how to be respectful and give something back to the Guatemalans we were photographing, without simply giving them money. When photographing people (other than professional models,) I am somewhat uncomfortable simply handing out money. Overseas, I am concerned that the subjects will end up seeing Americans and simply think “money.” Other photographers clearly have different stances on this difficult question, but that is NOT what this blog post is about. The point of the post is to explain, exactly how did we solve the problem of getting permission to photograph people in Guatemala, while giving something back to them?

The short answer is that we had an instant Polaroid Pogo printers with us and we gave the people we met photographs of themselves on the spot!! It is hard to describe how much of a difference this made. Yes, showing your subjects the digital image on the back of the camera is a small gesture of respect. A bigger one is to give them a print, which is exactly what we did. I have already written about the story behind the instant Polaroid Pogo printer at: http://thewellspoint.com/2009/01/23/the-life-and-death-and-life-of-polaroid-pictures/

This trip to Guatemala was the first time I have actually used the Pogo in the field. Simply put, it was fantastic. Yes, the prints are small. The colors are not stellar, but what matters is the ability to be able to give someone a print on the spot. That was amazing. Equally amazing was the reaction of the people we were photographing, when we actually gave them the print(s.) The smiles they gave back and the appreciation they showed were dramatic.

Once we started giving our subjects their own photographs, pretty much all the people around were happy to be photographed and given a print. Some of the students in the workshop had a virtual portrait studio going where they would first photograph a series of people, then pull out the Pogo and make a series of prints for those same people.

We quickly learned to carry extra Pogo paper as well as an extra battery. On location, the Pogo battery is only good for about 30 prints. We also learned how fast a crowd could gather to watch the Pogo as they spit out the small images. I videotaped a few of what we came to call our “Pogo parties, which I will make into a podcast in the months ahead and post on The Wells Point site.

One student developed a strategy in case someone initially did not want to be bothered (or did not understand what we were doing.) She figured out that the best step was to photograph something nearby, make a print and give it to the person. Invariably, once they saw the image, in this case an image of a basket of strawberries, they now suddenly wanted to be photographed.

So the Pogo turned out to be a spectacular tool to solve the problem of breaking down cross-cultural barriers, being respectful and giving something back to the people we photographed. The other discussion on problem solving involved the question of which camera I use and why. You can read more about that in the blog post for next Monday.

2 responses to “What kind of tools do I use and why? (Part one)”

  1. Thanks for the great idea, David. I’m going to buy one of these and lots of paper before I leave for Mexico. Still looking for the information you mentioned about a recording device. Nancy

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