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