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Guilt and the Photos that Shape Us
How I photographed The Brothers across the Bay
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While in India earlier this year, I went on a road trip with some friends where we ended up in a fishing village a few hours north of Chennai. I had previously shared a story from that day, but there was another moment that impacted me even more. It was something I felt compelled to share, but I needed to fully appreciate the experience myself before discussing it.
At some point in your travels, you might come across someone that lives such a wildly different life than yours, that a feeling of empathy can morph into guilt. As a photographer, you’re here to document your journey but there’s an uneasiness that may gnaw at your sense of self.
This is the story about one of those photos.
The Brothers across the Bay was photographed with the modern Summicron 28mm F2.0 lens on my Leica M11. I had some time to take a clean portrait and I knew I wanted feature my subject prominently in the foreground, while having key elements of his life exist almost like a dream-like state behind him. So I set the aperture to F2.0 and locked the ISO to 64 for the cleanest, wide-open portrait I could take. The shutter speed landed at 1/3200.
Side note: you may come across individuals online who criticize photographers using wide-open apertures for portraits.
Feel free to use your aperture as you like and as much as possible, use it to tell the story you want to share. In my experience, these people who try to establish themselves as photography authorities online are just seeking validation for their fragile egos. And guess what? Their work rarely leaves a lasting impression.
These boys, along with their parents, live on this strip of land that's about fifteen minutes away from the shore. You can't call it an island given how small it is; would "cape" be the right word?
Their dad was still out fishing, so we greeted the boys and their mother, exchanged a few words, and took some portraits throughout our conversation. During this experience, I'm trying not to let reality distract me from creating the image I want to make. It wasn't until much later that I let myself really embrace what I was feeling: guilt.
As a father of two boys, seeing these kids have so little and live in such harsh conditions, I couldn't help but feel like I didn't do enough during my time with them. Why didn't I do more? Why didn't I stay a little longer? Pretty quickly, there are all these hypothetical questions that I ruminate on and lose track of the actual priorities in front of me.
Here's the thing... guilt isn’t a bad feeling.
It's good to feel a range of emotions as a creative and explore them. You'll often get to your best work when this happens. The thing about guilt is that it can be a good compass. It's a reminder to be critical of your movements and hold yourself to a higher standard. Guilt is a course corrector that makes you confront your ego.
The tricky part is to discern between rational and irrational thoughts so you don't let hours flow away beating yourself up.
I'm not perfect, but I want to be better. And moments like this are a reminder of the responsibility we all have as photographers. I can't expect myself to save everyone I meet; it's an irrational thought. But I can be critical of how I carry my camera and look to be a little better each time.
For the last few months, I ran the first contest here for a full copy of Capture One Pro 23 along with my Global Styles Pack. I’m happy to announce the winner of this contest is…
Congratulations Darryl! And thank you for being a part of the Church & Street community. Now, what about the rest of you? Well, I got some some special news…
Moving forward, I’ll be running a monthly contest for subscribers of Church & Street. Yes, monthly! If you’re subscribed to this community, you’re automatically entered for a chance to win.
For July, I’ll be giving away a Long Weekend Santa Fe Shoulder Bag from Moment. This is something that I bought and loved to use. One lucky person will get their own to enjoy this summer.
How am I picking the winner? I’ll be taking the mailing list here, randomly picking one person, confirming they meet the requirements and then contacting them directly before announcing the winner publicly.
Once again, this contest is void where prohibited by law.
My thanks to the team at Moment! Not only for this contest but for being the longest supporter of my work online. They’re a lean team of passionate creators that truly believe in supporting other creators on their journey. Whether it’s a new camera, lens, workshop, or just some great articles, visit ShopMoment.com today.
Reader Question: Why don’t you share more of your work?
I get this question a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And the short answer is: I don’t care.
But as a member of this community, you deserve a better than that so here’s the long answer…
When people are asking this question, they’re really asking why am I not posting more of my photos, videos, and adventures on Instagram. While there’s a huge benefit for some creatives to post and share regularly, I find the time/attention/energy for Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok just doesn’t feel worth it for my journey.
“But Gajan, if you posted more you could grow your audience which would lead to more subscribers, opportunities, and revenue!”
I mean, yea but that’s not my priority. I believe that opportunity and revenue are a byproduct of me doing what I love. My priority is to do more of what I love, more often, with people I truly enjoy working with.
As I look to work on more ambitious projects, I’m always looking to trim the fat in my life. When I have the popular social apps on my phone, I would inevitably waste time scrolling while letting these feeds subconsciously affect my state of mind.
This sh*t is toxic.
The reality I’ve come to accept is that social media makes me accessible, not successful. If I’m gonna share something, it’s only gonna happen when I feel like I have something worth sharing, and not as a means to play the algorithm game.
So, many months ago, I decided to delete all these social apps off my phone and only check for DMs online or install them as needed to make the rare post that I felt was worth sharing. Guess what happened?
And when I’m happy, it’s easier for me focus on what matters. And what matters to me, like I said earlier, is focusing on doing more of what I love, more often, with people I truly enjoy working with.
This summer, I’ll be focusing on some client work before I really put my passport to work. There’s one event in particular that I think would make for a great story, especially if you’re into concert photography.
Anyway, that’s enough for one week. Appreciate you all reading and sharing. See ya next time!
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