Being “On”

Why “seeing it” is never turned off

There’s a quote I’ve held dear to my heart for many years, it’s from Annie Leibowitz. It’s pertinent to my everyday existence. She states: “[o]ne doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.”

I must cycle this quote in my mind at least a dozen times a day. I’ll wake wake up and look at the lighting in my room — analyze it — the way the light cascades off the bathroom window into the room; I’ll study the way the light diffuses onto the bed, leaving a soft, delicate glow. It’s in those fleeting moments when I wish I had my camera. It’s not yet been one hour into my day and I’m already framing a shot.

I’m on all the time.

I take my camera with me pretty much everywhere, I almost feel codependent on it. Without my camera I feel I serve little purpose; while I don’t literally feel this way, my camera offers me access and a level of distance (i.e. understood respect) in certain situations that I don’t think I would have without it. I reinforce Annie’s quote on a very literal level — my camera is on all the time, therefore I am too.

My eventual goal is to be a conflict photographer, so I feel it’s imperative to have a camera with me all the time, for A) practice in unpredictable situations and B) for getting the shot when I want to.

That being said, having my camera with me so much has been transformative for my photography. Instead of going to subjects and waiting for them such as one might do with models or lifestyle photography, I seek mine out. Most call it street photography, a loose term in my opinion but I’ll take it.

I opened with a quote from Annie Leibowitz — a quote I hold quite dearly. As she states, one doesn’t turn off and on framing. It’s always on.

My photography is basically a mash of street and documentary photography. In my opinion these are the most pure forms of photography — there is no outside or inside influence to it. I simply wait, watch, and capture.

As I’ve gotten older and more self assured with my personal style of photography, I’ve allowed myself to really experiment with light and shadows. I see things in variations of grey: from light to dark. This has allowed me to create shadows or even create light. It’s hard for me to see in color when I shoot photos, that’s why I primarily post in black and white.

When I shoot, I’m always “on” as Leibowitz would say. If you’re sensing a theme here, that’s because there is one. A photographer’s mind never shuts off.

BLM protest. Focusing on shadow and light.

When I took this photo at a recent BLM rally in East San Diego, it was extremely overcast with a few openings of sunlight. My main goal was to present the man in a way that was dignified yet also hold him anonymous. I feel I achieved that goal. I essentially created light when there was none for this shot, the secret lies in the focus and angle. While this example of creating light and shadow is in a fairly controlled environment, I think it’s equally important to do on the street.

Family of Three. Focusing on highlights/shadows

This photo is a prime example of my blend of documentary photography with street photography. Just as I photographed the man holding the sign, I pulled highlights out rather than enhancing shadows. We focus on the big and then notice the small.

This is one of my favorite photos as of late, there isn’t much going on and I love the emphasis on the silhouette of the family. This photo is a prime example of being on and focusing on surroundings. It’s the little things like this that keep me excited while taking photos.

I’ll keep shooting till I head to the Middle East or Africa or somewhere where there needs to be a story told. For now, like Annie Leibowitz says, one doesn’t stop framing. It’s always on.