Saturday, February 14, 2009

The real us


I received the following email from a stranger - sent through my website so this person had seen my work and perhaps read some of my opinions - below is my response. This may not be directly and exactly about Haiti, but as it exposes some of how I think about my work, I believe it relates.

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I have a question about the way others see us.
Nothing to do with the way we think of ourselves, just as an image. The way I see myself in the mirror is different to what I see in the pictures. This confuses me and makes me unsure of how I look on the outside as an image.
Which one is the real me?
Mirror or the picture?
Thank you

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There is no such thing as the real you - not in mirrors, or photos or anywhere else. Each person you encounter will interpret you differently. Your mother sees you differently than your lover, than your friend, than your enemy, or your child - the way they see you visually is more than what you actually look like because inexplicably mixed into this is their personal attachment to you and your history with them. A stranger sees you differently still, for they have no history.

When you look in the mirror you see your interpretation of yourself - a mix of how you want to be seen (idealism) and the things you see wrong about yourself (criticism) among other things. A photo, on the other hand is a moment in time - it is how you wanted to be seen at that moment, interpreted by the photographer and captured in time forever. This of course requires much trust in the photographer and their eye. In the hand of an amateur the results can be devastating, while in the hand of a master the result can be powerful, moving and beautiful. It is still not you. The id, the identity of a person is far more powerful than could possibly be captured in any way. In my work my goal is always not to simply capture what the person looks like but to bring out something about what's inside of them. This is not truly possible, but I think I do succeed to some extent.

Images have become incredibly important in our society, and the photographic image has been important almost immediately since it's invention. It is futile to fight it, therefore it will be easier if you embrace it. However, do not become a slave to your or anyone else's image. If you live your life as a good and beautiful person that will shine out to all others you encounter and will be far more powerful than whatever your actual appearance is. This is what I really speak of when I state that I photograph the beauty of people.

I hope this helps you along on your journey
Sander

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