The Proper Subject of Photography

Alamo Actor - Santa Ana
Alamo Actor – Santa Ana
Recently I came across a quote that said something like; “The proper subject of photography is people”. That has stuck with me ever since. After searching around on the web I’ve never been able to turn up actual quote again. In any case the idea seems more or less true.

The subject that most interests me as a photographer is the human face. Even though many of us routinely mask ourselves with makeup or facial hair the face still conveys a strong sense of who we are to the world. Faces are utterly fascinating.

Unfortunately staring at someone long enough to see the detail in their face is considered bad manners or even confrontational. That is unless you are making a photographic portrait. Then you are allowed and encouraged to examine the face of your subject in detail. You can even do this to some extent in street photography. The camera acts as a barrier between the photographer and subject that bypasses social convention. I’m sure there must be some deep evolutionary reason why we tolerate the stare of the machine but not that of other people.

As a non-professional photographer it is often difficult to photograph people outside of my circle of family and friends. I have to seek out subjects who are inclined to be photographed. For me that almost always means shooting at some sort of public event. There you have a target rich environment where people expect to interact with one another. It lowers barriers that people may otherwise have to the camera.

San Antonio, Texas where I live has many public venues that host events during the year. One of my favorites is the historical reenactments of the siege and fall of the Alamo. They take place in the middle of the city adjacent to the Alamo itself on two weekends in late winter. Depending on the year there will be tens to more than a hundred people in authentic early nineteenth century dress in the plaza anxious to talk and have their pictures taken. Everything comes together with the Alamo as a backdrop.

The images accompanying this post are from several years of reenactments. The common thread is the people. They spend lots of time preparing for just a few days in front of the Alamo each year.

Flame and Fire

Flame and Fire in Alamo Plaza
Flame and Fire in Alamo Plaza
Reenacting the Siege of the Alamo

The siege and fall of the Alamo in 1836 are touchstone events in the history of Texas. “Remember the Alamo!” Was a battle cry heard everywhere in Texas after the defenders were put to the sword. It is still heard today. Reenactments of the battle take place in late February and early March drawing thousands of visitors to Alamo Plaza in San Antonio. They tend to be elaborate affairs with dozens of participants in period dress and equipped with authentic weapons. The battle scenes can be quite noisy with cannon and rifle fire.

Producing A Body of Work

Press Camera
Press Camera
A few weeks ago I wrote that projects bring structure to my photography. It is impossible for me to consistently produce work without a project. I have to organize myself to get good results. Apparently some people have an intuitive sense of what to shoot but I need more control.

Typically I shoot and post images online after each outing. That leaves me with a few published images and lots of unpublished stuff. Most of my work remains unseen. Assuming I make a reasonable effort to self-edit, many decent shots never see the light of day. That is where the idea of a body of work comes in.

A body of work is often defined as the total output of an artist or artisan over time. That could be a lifetime or a project. It may seem strange for a non-professional to consider a collection of photographs as a body of work. I do see my images in that way.

One hot concept these days is to ‘curate’ your social or public presence. That could mean anything from creating lists of things for others to follow to just about anything that carries a personal stamp of approval. Assembling images into a body of work is considered by some to be self-curation. That seems a little pretentious to me so I just pick and sequence images until I’m satisfied with the results. It amounts to the same thing.

Once the images are selected and sequenced it is a matter of processing the lot for output. Here too decisions must be made which will probably eliminate some photos. Not every image will work for every output medium. If all goes well the end result is a coherent body of work. I can’t think of a more satisfying way to conclude any project.