Giving Away Your Energies

A number of  years ago I read an article about Yousuf Karsh, the great portrait photographer. He was doing a workshop in some place I don’t recall, and was walking and talking with a few of the participants. They walked along the beach. At some point some tourists interrupted them, handing a camera to Karsh and asking him to take their picture. I can imagine the short exchange, as I have experienced it. “You look like you know what you’re doing. Would you take our picture?” Well, Karsh, the great master, didn’t hesitate. Yes, of course he would.

I recently stood at the back door of a rental vacation condo watching a large family pose in golden sunlight. Then something a little troubling happened. The photographer switched places with a family member and the scene was repeated. I was exiting the door when they made the switch yet again. I hurried my step as I called out “I can help!” I got them all in the frame and then we made several exposures with a couple of different cameras, whatever they handed me. It was cool.

I’ve known photographers who are so concerned about how they’ll be paid that it seems like providing a photographic service is secondary. They would decline to photograph the stranger who needs somebody to press the button because not only would they not be paid but they would not have control of the image.

My mother has told me on several occasions of a photographer who photographed my older sister when she was a small child. When the photographer returned with proofs, my parents had no money to place an order–and to make it worse, my mother asked if she could keep the proofs since the photographer had no use for them. He allowed her to keep them. He gave her the proofs and got nothing in return. I’m certain that story has influenced my behavior when it comes to interacting with others.

I’m not suggesting that we all abandon the idea of making a living doing this stuff. I buy new cameras just like everybody else. Some kind of cash flow is required. What I am suggesting is to inject a little humanity, a little warmth, into our dealings with others. Sometimes, the small gift of pressing a shutter button for a young family on the beach (who, otherwise, would look like one member is always missing) is the largest gift they’ll receive.

Since I mentioned Yousuf Karsh, he did some interesting and beautiful portraits. The website, Artsy, has a great gallery of his images (and many other great photographers, for that matter). You might check them out and find some inspiration there. The Yousuf Karsh gallery on Artsy is here.

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