william had it right …"parting" really really is "such sweet sorrow"…it just kills me every time to say goodbye to someone i care about…and i probably do that more than i do almost anything else….we all do…i had to do it today..i waved my youngest son and his wife out of sight in the new york heat and traffic….

one of my students, and also now a good friend,  asked me a few days ago about how to "say goodbye" to a person or persons with whom you have established close contact as part of a photographic project….such a good question and one that had never been asked of me before….

in all of my relationships with emerging photographers, my whole "push" is for them to get "close"…get "inside"…make "friends"…become "part of the scene"….develop a sincere "relationship"….only by getting intimate can you make intimate photographs….this is my whole preamble for aspiring photographers…

i have never been asked, and i have never volunteered,  any advice whatsoever on how to get "out"..

how to "end a relationship" that has been built while doing an essay….how to say "goodbye" to the subjects of our work…how to go so so far in,  and then just "disappear"….and i probably do that more than anything else too…over a 30 year period i have said goodbye to a whole bunch of very very nice folks who have let me into their lives…trusted me…believed me….allowed me into situations with a camera and a smile to record things that if i had asked them if i could do it, they would have said "absolutely not"….

and yet, there i was doing it…making "impossible" to take pictures…because the situation had evolved….i became someone special enough to them, that they made me "one" with them and the experience…i get my pictures…..and then …and then…i jump on an airplane and fly fly away….probably never to return….

i would suspect that most of you have questioned this type of "goodbye" at one time or another…you cannot be the kind of person who is sincerely "warm enough" to be accepted by people and then be "cold enough" to just simply "walk away" unmoved and uncaring….

i promise to  give my opinions on the above…..but, you go first…..

how do you say goodbye to people who have opened their lives for  you, even if for only a "short time"  ??  how do you explain to your subjects  that you are here today and gone tomorrow??

my friend asked me a very good question…..i look forward to some very good answers from you….



24 Responses to “goodbye”

  • Hello David! The image posted at the end, from Cuba, reminded me your entire Cuban set. When I first saw it, I found it amazing, stared for several hours, and these very same pictures have had very strong influence to my interest in (documentary) photography. Actually for me your name is synonymous with your Cuban images. I think that set is one of your best (hope you don’t mind). And that deep and contrasty Velvia, sad to see it is gone now… ;)

  • I don’t think I could in any other way then by being completely honest. By looking at them in the eye and telling them with as much truthfulness as possible that it’s going to be an intense and yet fleeting connection; to explain what I plan to do with my images; to promise — if at all possible — to share with them the fruit of my work, of my inner journey and the pleasure I will derive from what I will have done with them. Explain that they are, really, the project, I am there to just do them as much justice as I can, with respect and consideration for their values, beliefs, and dignity, hopefully with all the talent I can muster.

    – Giancarlo

  • Saying goodbye. I never say goodbye for good. I am going back to Israel in October to see the same folks. And, I fall totally and completely in love with each and every one of them each and every time.

    When the Israel shoot was over the last night was so emotional; they formed this big circle and we each went around and kissed the hands of all the others and at least 4 told me “I love you.” One of them grabbed me and begin to cry because the work of the turning class and allowing me to photograph him opened him up in ways he had not experienced before.

    They all came away with a totally different view of being photographed; in the beginning I just sat in the class with them and didn’t even have my camera in my hand. As they grew used to me in the room I picked it up and clicked a few times. When they looked my way in surprise I just smiled and flirted (that is one way to describe what I do) and by the end of the first day had almost become invisible to them. It didn’t matter the gender either.

    Photography creates this incredible bonding with the subjects I shoot. It is hard to ruffle me so it keeps the subjects calm and more open. That is also a key in getting folks to allow you into their space.

    But saying goodbye is always emotional for me.


  • I’ve never had a chance to do the sort of in-depth photographic project you’re talking about, but any time I’ve had an intense connection with someone that was, by nature, short, the parting’s always been… understated, I guess is the word. Almost unspoken, just a few words that appear restrained, but in which everything is said (but it still feels too damned anticlimatic anyways). But honestly, all of that- even the damned anticlimaticism- all just fits, and feels, you and William are right- to be “sweet sorrow:” slightly mournful, slightly fresh, preemptively nostalgic.

    But mine have all been short, a few weeks at most, not like what it sounds like Lee Guthrie is talking about, or at least some of the instances you’re talking about.

    (I wonder: if Shakespeare had lived in the proper time, and was equipped with a second set of talents, what sort of photographs would he take?)

  • david,

    i believe goodbye is always determined when they first meet.
    but ties or karma always makes another ties that can be visible or invisible.

    when i was in winnan last year for image press workshop
    i had several contacts and relation with local chinese people.

    to jump the language barrier, i break the ice with candies
    for young ones and with cloud cookies (slang for the cigarette in our town)
    for seniors.

    young boys gave me a permission to play with them and
    elderly people showed me their private workroom and living room
    with green tea. it was small things that i share but they gave me
    hearty presents that i will never forget.

    i am not a guru on this area, but when we start to share something
    we can photograph each other’s mind at once. this will last forever
    even if we say goodbye at the moment.

    sometimes we are reluctant to leave a person. it is a natural feeling.
    however, we cannot hold them right next to us all the time. it is impossible.
    that is why we should use our skills… taking the photos, not on the ccd or
    films but on the hearts of the subjects and ours.


  • First, hello from a longtime lurker and reader of you blogs :)

    I think I’m lucky, lucky enough not to have to say goodbye yet to the people I’m “working” with (in brackets ’cause photography isn’t my job, just my passion). I’ve been able to keep in touch with people made through this passion, to know and go deeper with some of them.

    Anyway, when you meet someone, when you start a project, they know as well as yourself that there will be a goodbye, since it is people who let you into their homes and lives, let you be part, as you let them be part of your own emotions, when there’s respect on both sides. It’s a give and take, they let you in, and you put them in the center of at least your own attention, they will be on your mind as you will be on theirs. No answer to your question, sorry. :)

  • david,

    there are several ways of looking at it…to me it all has to do with the personality of the photographer…..

    first, not all photogs get “close” with their subject. some photogs stay “detached”, they go, they take pictures of a crisis situation, and they go…they may do this to preserve their personal balance…I don t think it is mentally healthy to experience separation anxiety all the time…some people say that it can develop depression over time…can even have an effect on their family live…getting used to say goodbye every week changes your perception on human relationship…

    second, is it true to say that you are interested to your subject to the extent that he/she fits with the story you are shooting (iam not making any judgment here, I am thinking aloud)….you give your subject exposure to present a problematic in which he/she is part of…they allow you to come in and “share” their life for a while….do they let you in because they know that your pictures will get published in a magazine (so that for an instant in life they will exist)? Do you take pictures because for you there is no possibility of not doing so (compulsive behavior) so that the subject is less important than you?

    I have a lot of difficulty with this notion of friendship when shooting a picture….to me it takes years to come to know and befriend someone… they can show you a façade of who they are…you can feel sympathetic to their situation, their circumstances, even their suffering…but at the end of the day, you belong to two different worlds…what you can say at most is that you shared a moment with them….by the way this moment can be powerful (an eye exchange can have life lasting impact)…

    my take (to be absolutely honest with you) is that we use the word friendship too easily…


  • what a beautiful question… one that I have obliquely given some thought to as well over the years. i suppose that the relationships formed are somewhat like those of other professions where intimacy is a part of the equation…at the end it is time to say goodbye, but if something special has happened, both parties are changed and that change is carried forward.

    i often think about what and how photographs give back in the world. since we are there to “take” pictures, it seems fair to ask what it is that those pictures give back. there’s never a clear answer to that question, but keeping it in mind helps to humanize the experience.

    so much of photography is done for a remote audience…i’m always curious how the pictures affect the subjects and the places themselves…they do have the power to transform them.

  • I have hardly ever managed to say goodbye. I have an endlessly growing extended family, for good and bad.

  • Few days ago i had to say “goodbay” to one of my subjects – to 18-years old Samanta – mother of small Wiktoria – young mother from my story…
    You gave us an assignment and i wanted to continue my story and shoot more about Samanta, her boyfriend and small Wiki…
    but i got a sms that she is living now in other city.. they try to have normal familly, they got a job and have their own apartment :-) Unfortunatelly is too far to go there and shoot even now this story is really interesting, maybe even more…
    but for now, i have to say “goodbay” to them… hope it will be only “see you” :-)

  • I have a hard time with any notion of ‘ending a relationship’… removing yourself from intimacy without committment sounds like a one-night-stand.

    We’ve all done it, but few of us find real meaning in it.

    My opinion: Pick and choose your subject matter wisely and with careful consideration.

    Not so that it will be easy to say goodbye, but so that it will always be easy to say hello.

    In many ways, your subjects will choose you…

  • we have to say good-bye to everyone eventually. it is very hard with someone who has in some way exposed themselves–been vulnerable and honest and trusting. i think this is why it is so hard with our children. this is what we ask sometimes of perfect strangers–to be open and honest and vulnerable. but it is a two way street–we are somehow becoming that too when we are photographing from the heart. so it is a gift and also something taken from both sides. we can leave the photographs as well as take them with us and we can leave the memories as well as take them with us. that is all we ever have. perhaps we will meet them again–perhaps not. but it will never be exactly the same–every day is different. the journey is what is important–not the end. hopefully we leave good memories of respect as well as having honored them with finding them interesting and wanting to photograph them–to tell their story. rosemary

  • David, before I add my comment I must say that I see a book here in your essays. So many photographers (or even non photographers) want to know about the things that are being discussed here. I can see it presented in book form…along with images of course!

    I’m like Lee I guess…have gone back to the same towns in India for 12 years in a row. I get VERY attached and have a hard time saying goodbye which probably plays a part in why this “project’ has continued and others have not started.

  • I remember that when I went to the Santa Fe Workshops it was very hard for me to say goodbye because when you put a bunch of people together with the same purpose and the same passion in life, you just want to stay there with them forever.

    Also, I think it must be fascinating when you discover that you can teach something to somebody in the other corner of the world, something that maybe you take it for granted but this person can really appreciate…there’s nothing in life like giving a piece of wherever you know or wherever you’re to somebody else.

    You’ve become a citizen of the world, hard work, I know, but also a privelege. You vision of the world is a lot bigger than the vision that many people will ever have and maybe because of that is so difficult for you to say goodbye…I guess that’s also why you’ve created this blog, to create an emotional balance between meet new people and left others behind.


  • David,
    I have been an avid reader of your blog for sometime. Ever since it came up on the Trek Earth blog. Only now have i felt compelled to comment. I am about to say goodbye to South Korea a country where i have spent the last 3 years of my life. It is the place where i truly developed my passion for photography and have met some amazing people. Having to say goodbye is probably one of the most difficult things. I know I will stay in touch with many friends that I met here in Korea. So I’m not really saying goodbye as I’m sure I will see them again. But to the students I have taught and bonded with its a different story. It is hard to just walk away from a life I have built so far away from home. Many of them are too young to really understand but they will be in my thoughts and hopefully many will stay in contact with me. When i say goodbye i try to remember all the good times and experiences I have shared and I hope a part of me will stay with the people as memories. So i guess that softens the blow of saying goodbye. Just a month left before i have to say my goodbyes. I’m dreading it already


  • The Italian simply say “arrivederci”, that means: “I look forward to see soon”.
    We rarely say “Addio” (goodbay) because this word means farewell.
    So, I think that nobody knows if you will meet again the person you leave, but you know, we are optimist and say “arrivederci”. This is the simplest way to leave a person…
    So, arrivederci.

  • Like Gaetano, we say “Hasta luego” instead of “adios” (farewell, good bye)…It’s a way to say that we will not see each other just for a while…


  • i love how ‘arrivederci’ sounds.. the simplicity.. and the optimism. these situations aren’t always simple, especially on the longer-term projects, so to have a sincere and optimistic demeanor seems key..

    there are times, though, when i am ‘method acting’… transfering into a skin maybe i didn’t know i had.. in order to get close.. although i am sincere in the moments, in the end i can’t stay in that skin.. and if relationships are formed while in that skin.. i think that’s when ‘goodbye’ can become complicated..

  • I’ve never taken the sort of picture that involves someone in a difficult situation, suffering or vulnerable and perhaps that makes a difference. Quite often I’ll spend 5 months or 5 minutes with someone who I’ll know I’ll never see again. I say goodbye and walk off sometimes a handshake sometimes a hug and a kiss quite often a nod and a wave but I try hard not to look back. I do try hard to send a picture but quite often I can’t. I might take the picture but normally try to give someone a smile in return.

  • david alan harvey

    hello all…

    i have zero time to be writing right now, but i am going to do it the mood …because i just had a painful “goodbye” on chat!! with my girlfriend who is on another continent…such a sweet sentimental goodbye and we are not even in the same place!!!

    regarding saying “goodbye” for the people we meet while doing our work, i have no “formula” for others , but here is how i think about it and here is what i do…

    first, i try to make the experience we have together absolutely the memory of a lifetime…so that they will always remember me as a friend…because i am a friend….so that the time we have together is not just a photographic experience, but a life experience…the temporary quality to it, may even add to the intensity…i may not be around tomorrow, but when i was “around” i was really “around”…besides , in any relationship, “time” is relative anyway…

    second, i really work hard on making prints as gifts during the shooting or very soon thereafter…kent kobersteen, former director of photography at National Geographic, was with me on assignment once in oaxaca, mexico and he told me i was like santa claus…walking around passing out prints every morning….i really do this as much as possible… whenever it is possible..if not, i send prints back…not 100% on this, but my track record pretty good on this…a promise is a promise….

    and like amy, i have a very very large extended family!!! and miracle of miracles, i do , more often than you would imagine, run into my “former subjects” again….i have some totally outrageous and amazing stories in this regard, but no time to tell now…

    ok, i MUST say “goodbye” to you right now…i will post soonest from korea, but please factor in a very long trip…

    peace, love, and make yourself happy..this will make someone else happy….


  • Hi David, all

    been reading your blog for a while, thanks to Maciej, Rafal and Francis telling us on another site.

    When you carry your friends and those your love, not in your memory, but in your heart, even the ones who died, you know you have pretended to say goodbye, but did not really. It’s the love that grips, not the parting.

    I wish a great journey, tell us how that guy Rafal really looks like. Grrr, all these friendships on the net, and not a chance to say neither goodbye nor hello, for years….


  • And from the completely non soulful end of the scale, what are the light sources in the above pictures, especially the first? You do great lighting.


  • i hate them too….for me, always, they are like small deaths…and i’ve never really done well….

    a reminder of how all we cherish will disappear and also a reminder to preserve, inside and out, all that you love:

    to sing upon and of the appreciation of others….


  • if you can go back to them, visit them again, most of them a very happy to receive some prints, even by post ;)I had some wonderful re encounters this summer back in morocco… nice blog entry…

Comments are currently closed.