First, I must refer you to the photograph on pages 142-143 of the hard cover edition of From Alice to Ocean by Robyn Davidson, the account of Ms. Davidson’s solo trek by camel across the Australian outback. The digital version of the book was one of the reasons people suddenly had to have CD-ROM drives in their computers (in fact, you can see the old Apple logo with multi-colored apple and Garamond Condensed typeface on the title pages).
In the picture we see Ms. Davidson, grinning with two camels in tow as she looks to her left at her friend Mr. Eddie, who also grins as he waves at the camera (picture taken by Rick Smolan).
Except that neither is grinning. Both are angry.
Mr. Eddie, an Australian Aboriginal, hated being photographed and was waving his hand in a “No! Don’t do that!” sort of gesture. Ms. Davidson, mouth breathing because of exhaustion (as you might expect when traversing the desert by Dromedary), wasn’t happy with Mr. Smolan’s persistence in taking unwanted pictures.
Which now brings me to the photograph I took yesterday while eating lunch on the 10th floor of SFPUC headquarters.
Obviously, hardly a good shot, but it does tell a story, doesn’t it? In the bottom left, you see a crowd of people. In the upper right, you see a man sprawled on his back, his arms outstretched. In between, you see a sheriff, hands on gun belt, staring at the crowd. So the story is obvious, right? Something bad happened to the man lying on the ground, the crowd consists of people who had seen what happened, and the sheriff is keeping them from contaminating the scene whilst he awaits backup.
The crowd? Participants in a fire drill. The sheriff? He was running the drill, ensuring that everyone went to their designated evacuation point and they did not return to work prematurely. And the guy sprawled on his back?
He was taking a nap.
And that’s the curious nature of photography. Sometimes a picture tells two stories; the story that you see, and the story that is.
Vonn Scott Bair