BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Photography (Or When the Ego Fails)

There was a time, many moons ago, when I wanted to become a photographer. Because I read Shutterbabe. Because I wanted to be one of them -- Godlike men and women who struck me as interesting, always out there on the front lines, the sole bearer of graphic truths.  Because I thought it was well, cute. And amazing. Enigmatic. Awesome, even. Sexy, too. Rock star-ish, somewhat. 

And so I tried. I've bought a total of five cameras, not the point and shoot kind but the "professional" ones. 

I wanted to be known as a photographer. I wanted this: "Iris Gonzales is a Manila-based writer and photographer." And this, too: "Text and photos by Iris Gonzales." 

And so I studied. I attended lectures and was wowed by God's Gifts to Photojournalism. I went to places and took photos. I captured poverty and dirt and many things that make this country a God-forsaken one. 

And then one day, it hit me right smack on the face. 

I saw for the first time how it was done and how it should be done. The right way. You don't fake it. You don't re-enact an event that happened a second ago. You don't shoot to feel sexy. Or stunning. Or simply because it's cute. You don't need dozens of lenses and show them off as if they're extensions of your penis. Or substitutes if you're lacking down there. 

The way it's done, as I saw from professionals, is that you put everything you've got for a photograph -- tears, sweat and blood. You don't fake it even if it means being out-scooped. You don't re-enact, even if it means not having a photograph at all. You don't photoshop so that night becomes day or dawn becomes night. You don't do poverty porn or disaster porn. And you don't steal photos for a trip to Chile or for anything else.

And needless to say, you put value in your work. You don't take peanuts for a five-point by-line and be exploited by magazine publishers who care not about the craft but the money that your work would churn in for them. You don't nose-dive for an assignment because you're not only pulling down your dignity (which should be okay if you only harm yourself). You wittingly or unwittingly drag down a whole universe of self-respecting and passionate photographers as well. So if you feel your work isn't good enough for you to ask for a fair price, then it probably isn't so go venture into something else that is and leave the space for the real ones. 

This is not to say that only God-likes can be photographers. Some of them break their own rules, too. And they're not exactly the best species -- oh so very, very complicated individuals who remember the latest camera models more than they would remember your birthdays. Or even what you just said a minute ago. Try traveling with them to another country and they will wander for hours on end for that perfect photograph. They would only remember that they were actually traveling with someone, hours later, when their batteries are dead. 

They will come on time for a shoot but never for a date. And when you're stuck in a sinking life boat with a photographer, don't count on him saving a stranger like you. He would grab his camera first and once all his gadgets are secured, maybe that's the only time he would remember you, if he remembers at all. Unless of course, you're Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is not around. 

But they are who they are. 

And you, you just have to be in it for the right reasons.