Last night, I was in conversation with a friend bemoaning the lack of photo coverage at literary events he used to organize in New York.
“Did you invite photographers?” I asked. He conceded that attendance was mostly comprised of other writers. This same friend now writes for an art blog, and as such I regularly attend events with him-for companionship, no doubt, but also because my habit of photo-documenting my surroundings provides valuable visual aids for his blog posts.
Being a realtime photographer has advantages and drawbacks. One advantage is that my obsessive chronicling and subsequent posting provides me a relatively solid timeline that I can refer to when trying to, say, reconstruct how I’ve spent my New Year’s Eve for the last 5 years (it probably reflects poorly on me that it’s much harder to do by memory). One disadvantage is the slight insecurity of never knowing if I’ve been invited someplace in the hopes that I will take photos so the host doesn’t have to bother with it.
Because it is a bother. I’ve noticed, since moving to Detroit and becoming a more active participant in my life, that photography involves a kind of stepping-back from the scene - it’s hard to capture something and be a part of it at the same time. Lately I have forgone obsessive documentation in favor of being a more active participant in my surroundings, but attending these art openings and readings with my friend has forced me back into a practice of what may loosely be defined as “event photography.”
I dislike event photography. It goes against the grain of my every photographic interest. People in hokey poses, jumping out of the flow of life to group and smile for the camera. Stagey surroundings engineered for their photogenic nature. Flash, flash, and more flash. The sheer redundancy. My friend who makes a solid living as a wedding photographer once sent me a list - “25 must-get shots for the wedding photographer” - the very idea of this pedestrian scavenger hunt for the same 25 shots that every wedding photographer is also trying to get makes me want to smash my camera. It’s not that I won’t take pictures at weddings, it’s just that the things I find interesting are more likely to be shadows at play on the tabletop or kids at play behind the pews, not the millionth shot of the bride putting on mascara. I can’t fully understand if there are artistic principles at work behind professional event photographers; is the passion for them merely to point a recording device at something and push a button? What are they getting out of that 25-shot list besides a paycheck? If the paycheck is all, I can get paid more for doing something I have zero interest in.
Which brings me closer to my artist statement as a photographer, and the real reason I can never make a living doing event photography-the event I’m documenting is MY life, not your wedding. If it’s so important to you, might I humbly suggest that you be the one to photograph it.