Saturday, 29 August 2015

POV: This Thing Called 'Vision'

In an interview about my photography a few weeks ago, I was asked what my vision was, and after figuratively scratching my head for a few seconds, I replied candidly and honestly (and possibly disconcertingly to the interviewer) as follows:

"Vision? What vision? I have no vision. I am a documentarian. I see something I'm interested in and I photograph it. That's my vision." 

I posted my quote on my Facebook page, and from the comments by the community of friends, it seems it had struck a funny bone. The comments were interesting... some serious; others tongue in cheek. 

So I thought I'd also write a POV for the readers of this blog who are not on my Facebook feed..

It's really simple. Being a documentary travel photographer frees me from having to espouse a noble purpose or a visionary concept. I never claimed to be an artist not have had any aspirations to be one. Artists may have a vision; fine art photographers, fashion photographers, glamour photographers, and even social issues photographers, and possibly photojournalists, may have artistic vision. Not me. I could pretend to have a lofty vision, a calling if you will...some do, but that's not what I do.

It's certainly a question of semantics, and how we define vision. I wrote in one of my comments that it was a matter of terminology and a question of context. When I was asked the question, I construed "vision" to be shorthand for "artistic vision" or "humanitarian vision", none of which I'm blessed with. Naturally, one can argue that a documentarian captures what he sees based on his or her own biases and that's "vision", but I prefer to describe that as "focus".

In other words, my focus on what interests me aesthetically and intellectually is derived from a mindset and plans that are tangible, rather than an abstract "vision". As examples, when I photograph Sufi events or Hau Dong ceremonies, it's to document what's happening in front of me...the colors, the forms, the expressions, the body well as imbibing the surrounding aural elements. Sometimes I  know what I'm looking for ahead of time, but that can hardly be called 'vision'. 

And like many other photographers, many of my favorite images were made because I was right there at the right moment, and clicked at the right instant. No vision there.

One of my Facebook interlocutors provided me with quote from Dorothea Lange:

"To know ahead of time what you're looking for means you're then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting and also false. I wouldn't criticize a photographer who works completely without plan and photographs that to which he instinctively responds." 

So I'm in good company, it seems. Yes, an instinctive response is so much more my kind of thing. I see something I like, and I instinctively click the shutter. That's my kind of vision.

NB: My thanks to Ms. Nguyễn Vi (appearing as Bà Chúa Cafe) whose permission I obtained to use one of the frames I made of her with her eyes closed during our photo shoot in Hanoi last July.