by Sean Cayton
Freelance photographer

'People take pictures because something in front of them is meaningful.' — Sam Abell

Photojournalism is transported to a higher plane through Mr. Abell’s comment, made during his interview in the September issue of the Digital Journalist. http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0209/sa_intro.htm

For me, his description encompasses the entire meaning of the word photojournalism. It doesn’t require a press pass; it has no need for long lenses or laptops. It remains the central truth, at the very core of our profession.

The more people who use a camera to document what is meaningful to them, the better.

But Mr. Abell’s comment also hints at something more. There is an element of mastery of the craft of photojournalism. It is something like the ability to sing an unaccompanied solo or to write a prize-winning novel or to be the swan in Swan Lake. It’s an act of creation that is powerful, eloquent and sonorous.

Mastery of craft goes further than f-stops and shutter speeds. The concept assumes that I have already mastered technical issues; that my camera is an extension of my mind’s eye.

Mastery of craft is the ability at opportune moments to harness the eye and to create something wonderfully telling. Practice is paramount.

Yet my eye is too often clouded. Deadlines, my photography business, everyday life, or the weight of my camera bag all get in the way.

One of the age-old rules in photography is to carry a camera everywhere I go. But is it me, or is it nearly impossible to do that today as a professional? David Burnett has shed the need for a bag of heavy, expensive camera gear by carrying with him a Holga. It has elevated his photography to another level.

Which of us wants to carry an SLR and lens around - all 5 to 6 pounds of it, not including the bag - when we are not on assignment? Who wants to brand themselves as a ‘professional’ every time they reach into their bag to retrieve their camera?

I decided to give my eye the space to breathe, my body the rest it deserves and to allow myself the opportunity everyday to see and to create. I stripped away everything except a quiet, very small extension of my eye. It's something that fits in my shirt pocket. I went to Wal-Mart and purchased six disposable cameras.

At first, real fear resulted. Maybe I couldn’t make photographs in the same way, with the same effect and the same impact as when I shoot on assignment with my digital gear? Was that ever the truth.

What I see now is what my mind sees. My instincts as a photojournalist do the rest.

Today, the photography I make with a disposable camera, with its one f-stop and shutter speed, seems more meaningful to me. It allows me to document those moments that I witness everyday, but which I rarely bothered to photograph before.

I don't know what will happen to the pictures I make with these cameras. The cameras are ultimately destined for the trash, but I hope the photos survive. I'm calling the work 'Disposable Moments.' I welcome your comments.

Disposable Moment #5 Entrance to Wal-Mart.
©2002 Sean Cayton

Disposable Moment #11 Meat shopping at Wal-Mart.
©2002 Sean Cayton

Disposable Moment #20 Skull and car. ©2002 Sean Cayton

Disposable Moment #29 Bathroom break. ©2002 Sean Cayton

Disposable Moment #39 Don Griss of Denver protests the attendance of a controversial speaker during a sympsosium at The Colorado College called September 11: One Year Later.
©2002 Sean Cayton

Disposable Moment #45 Flyfishing on the Arkansas River. Salida, Colorado.
©2002 Sean Cayton

Disposable Moment #46 Early morning flight from Oakland to L.A. ©2002 Sean Cayton

Sean Cayton





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