Are they doing that because I’m there?

Post by Jason Plotkin

I’m taking photos in the cafeteria of an Elementary School last week for an assignment. When I first start taking pictures, the two responses I get from the kids are:

a) Making faces and posing with their friends

or

b) putting their hoods up and saying “No photos!”

My usual style in these situations is to hang out long enough so that the kids get used to me and just behave in whatever passes for “normal” these days.

That never happened. Throughout the entire period at lunch, the two reactions remained pretty constant with the above A & B.

The closest I got to realism was when this girl called me over and asked me to get a fork and some ketchup for her. Then, before I knew it, I was getting multiple forks and multiple packets of ketchup for the entire table.

With about 10 minutes left, I just stuck with this one table of girls as they started out by making faces at me and then seemed to settle down. At one point, the entire table reacted to something this one girl was saying. This was the image I got:

I couldn’t help but wonder if they were reacting to something she said about me and what I was doing. Did I care? Should I care? How much did I manipulate the scene by my presence alone?

These are things photojournalists have to worry about. I didn’t ask the girls to make faces, joke around, or say something to make them laugh in the image above.

But I can’t help but wonder if me just being there made this shot happen. I’m not saying they would not have joked around and laughed if I was not there. I’m just saying that my goal is to capture life as it happens without contaminating it.

Is this possible? Can a photographer or videographer truly disappear in a scene and not influence what is happening around him or her?

I’d like to think it’s possible. But I’m not always sure. Should I ask the girls what they were talking about? And if it was about me, should I not use the photo?

I would take each shot on a case by case basis. Do my best to have patience, not influence the people I’m photographing and make sure they understand that I want them to go on with their business like I wasn’t there.

I realize this is a lot tougher for some people than it sounds. But in most cases, it’s the best I can do to make sure I get moments that are as real as is possible.

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A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there is often more to say about a great photograph. The York Daily Record's award-winning visual staff offers a peek behind the lens and into the process of capturing, editing and publishing their most interesting photographs, video stories and more.
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