Being Candid

I was going through some old personal photographs over the weekend. There were lots of pictures of people smiling for the camera but amongst the school portraits and posed group shots were a couple of candid snapshots that caught my eye.

Brian and Dad. Rochester, NY (early 1960's)

There was a photograph of my dad with my youngest brother – a candid moment, either right before or right after the “posed” moment that captured their spirits. There was a cockeyed shot of my other brother asleep in a barber chair.

Jay at the barber. Rochester, NY (early 1960's)

And then there was a shot of me with my sister and cousin that left you wondering. It was a picture of my sister and cousin, sitting in a wagon that had been abandoned on a sidewalk in a newly built “neighborhood”, taken in the early 1950’s. And there I was, younger and smaller than my sibling, but standing defiantly on my own, refusing to pull the wagon any further.

Janice and Jeanine in wagon. Me standing defiantly. Chicago, IL (early 1950's)

When I was growing up taking pictures wasn’t like it is these days in the digital era. The cameras then were totally manual and you were quite lucky if your pictures “came out”. You didn’t really know what your results would be until weeks, months or even years later, after you finished the roll of film that was in your camera and had dropped it off at the drug store to be sent off to Kodak to get developed. Depending on how frugal you had been with snapping pictures on that roll of film, looking through your prints after they came back from Kodak was sometimes like seeing the whole year in images with each holiday neatly documented. So with the odds against you for capturing good pictures, you tended to be very cautious and shoot only the sure-fire posed situations. Those shots were hard enough to get, let alone trying to get candid moments. One of my favorite songwriter/musicians, Jackson Browne writes about the candid moments caught in an image:

Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer

I was taken by a photograph of you

There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more

But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true

These days of course taking photos is almost seemless because of automatic features on digital cameras giving us instant gratification in seeing our results immediately. Everyone is taking pictures and in a much more spontaneous way – taking more chances because what’s the harm if something doesn’t come out right – you just erase it and try again. It’s quite interesting because we are all documenting our times and our culture for future generations to see beyond the smiling face.

I love to shoot the candid moments and I’ve spent a career documenting our times and our world through the lens of my camera. I’m an observer and a visual communicator but I’m also a historian, knowing that my images will be a legacy of my time in history. It’s a powerful thought to know that someday someone may look at a photograph that I shot and wonder. Or at least I hope my images will make one wonder, beyond the smile of the faces captured.

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4 thoughts on “Being Candid

  1. kathusitalo May 16, 2010 / 10:26 am

    Another thoughtful post.
    Love the moment and the perspective, the lines of the sidewalk and buildings in the last shot. Perhaps you inherited your eye from the relative(?) who shot that photo.

  2. Richard Mooney May 18, 2010 / 7:13 am

    Wow. I love posts like these.

    It would be interesting if I wast to look through the old Mooney family tree and actually find a link between our families Gail.

    Great post.

    Rich

  3. Jim McNally May 23, 2010 / 9:29 am

    Your description of how we used to take photos and discover what we shot, weeks and months later brings back many memories of how we did it in our family.
    Despite people taking the number of digital photos today I don’t think we will have all those photos in the future. I think hard drives will fail and wipe out the memories for many people. Backing up drives won’t become as commonplace as the process of taking them.
    Time will tell what will be left of this period.

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