Photography can prove deceptive. The phrase, “it’s all there in black and white” might have originated in relation to a written document; it might have originated because someone pointed at a photo and spoke that phrase as another version of another saying, “a picture (or the camera) doesn’t lie.” The trouble is that photography can deceive/confuse/lie/obfuscate, even if that is not the photographer’s intention, at the very moment when the photographer is trying to capture a moment as exactly as possible.
The problem arises when this happens: the photograph captures the moment, but not the context in which the moment occurs. You will find these ruminations in any Photography 101 course, of course, and I doubt I have anything original to add here, with the possible exception of this picture.
I spotted the situation as the 21-Hayes approached the stop near the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell. Guy stares at woman, woman doesn’t know it. He stares at her hard. Remarkable coincidence follows; she boards and takes a seat opposite me, he keeps staring as the bus idles at a red light. I put my iPhone’s camera to work (seriously, does anyone use a cell phone to make, you know, phone calls?) and snagged the shot.
What the heck is really going on here? The moment looks sinister, thanks to the staring man in the background, but what of the context? Depending upon who you are, your immediate impulsive reaction might consist of “Did Vonn just photograph a sexual offender scouting for victims and is it possible that the police might need this picture someday?” Depending upon who you are, your immediate impulsive reaction might consist of “Did Vonn just photograph a really shy guy who couldn’t work up the gumption to speak to her before her bus arrived?” For all we know, the next time he sees her, he might work up the gumption to speak to her, and they might instantly fall madly in love, get married next week and spend the next 75 years swooning over each other.
We just don’t know.
In deference to my boy Henri Cartier-Bresson, I call this “The Anti-Decisive Moment.” He once wrote that a good photographer captures “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Obviously, I’m not a good photographer; My imprecise organization gave this event multiple “possible expressions.”
Yes, great photography is hard. However, bad photography is also pretty tough.
Photography just isn’t black and white.
Vonn Scott Bair