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In Your Face
Rules. “Don’t stare, don’t point,” said mom. ”Ask permission before making pictures,” say others.
That’s not for me. I want to get as close a look as I can, right in your face if possible, without you paying me any mind. If I can make a picture while you’re doing what you’re doing, unguarded, even though I’m right there in your face, that’s my goal.
But working with a visible camera impacts the scene. Not only can it irritate people, overt camera use also alters the entire existing dynamic, often destroying the very moment one wishes to record, before it is recorded. So my intention is to record the moments, while leaving everyone be, without them feeling observed.
Hard to do. Few succeeded like Walker Evans did, his camera hidden under his overcoat, lens peeking through a button hole. But even Evans kept his distance and could not get in people’s faces without his intent being noticed.
In 2001, after a quarter of a century of trying to be invisible with a standard camera, I finally found the perfect photographic tool which I use to this day: a plastic digital camera that fits on a digital organizer. The camera and organizer are now obsolete and the camera’s highest resolution — 640×480 pixels – is today the lowest resolution on the market.
640×480.net is where I put my keepers.
“Don’t mind me, just organizing here,” is what I exude in the process of picture making.
The Eyemodule2 — or “eyemod” as I call it and its output — is small, silent, and doesn’t resemble a camera. It’s just a bump on my PDA. When I use it, I look like I have a reason to be holding it, staring down at it, in the palm of my hand — a reason having nothing to do with photography. I behave as if completely absorbed with digital organizing, paying no attention to the people I photograph. To them, I simply seem like any other self-absorbed pedestrian.
I do love the digital Brownie “personality” of this camera, its color palette, tight dynamic range, near pinhole depth of field and the softness of its cheap lens. When enlarged to wall size, the eyemod prints start to resemble watercolor paintings. But all that is secondary. Most importantly, the tool helps me achieve my primary goal: recording people’s unguarded public selves, from the nearest proximity possible, while unnoticed, and leaving them to continue, undisturbed.
In the introduction to Walker Evans’ book Many Are Called, James Agee wrote of our guards: “Only in certain waking moments of suspension, of quiet, of solitude, are these guards down, and these moments are only rarely to be seen by the person himself, or by any other human being.”
This is my collection of some of these unguarded moments.