The other day I had the most terrifyingly illuminating experience. A friend of mine, who we will call Mike, because that’s his name and he said I could, took me to downtown San Diego. This doesn’t sound like an altogether extraordinary act; it wasn’t Fallujah. It was what he forced me to do when we got downtown that was extraordinary and it was the way it made me feel that was alarming.
I consider myself to be a relatively competent professional photographer. Not to the “do you know who I am?” level, but competent. At least I did. When Mike and I parked downtown and got out of the car he told me to leave everything except my camera and bring only one lens . I grabbed my Tamron 45mm because it’s crazy sharp and I expected low light and I knew this would get the job done.. We then walked 20 feet down the street and he pointed to a sign spinner and he turned me and he said, “Take her picture”. That instruction doesn’t seem too crazy. After all, it’s not like he pointed to a stroller and said grab the baby and run. Taking someone’s picture on a public street is hardly challenging. Then why, I ask myself, was my only response abject horror-mouth wide open. First of all, I refused. I refused to raise my camera to my face and take a picture of a stranger spinning a sign on a public street. While I was searching for an alley to jump into, he asked her if it was ok and she said yes, happily I might add; so I did take her picture and then I walked away, fast…..as in from a fire fast.
After we left her I realized that I had some serious analysis to do. I wasn’t just outside my comfort zone, I was in the frigging twilight zone! Why was that so frightening? Why did I feel like I was stealing something from her? Why did I feel like I had no business photographing someone in public? Why did I feel judgment? Did I feel like a tourist? Was I less than a professional photographer? Was I a hack?
It’s interesting that none of my doubt had anything to do the technical side of photography or the challenging lighting situations or camera settings; it was all pure emotion. The fact that the overwhelming feeling was incompetence had nothing to do with my competence as an artist. I just couldn’t get comfortable with the fact that I was rudely forcing my will upon these people and stealing their likeness, often without asking. Of course, that is not what I was doing at all, it just felt that way. Mike explained to me that every time he photographs a stranger he follows it with the big beaming smile at them. He said, “Most times it’s disarming, rarely does it fail.” When it does, he’s grateful he’s a marathon runner.
After sweating it out on the street for an hour or so we got back into the car. That was when my creative brain took over the Debbie doubter brain and all the worry & silliness fell away. I remembered that I actually have photographic talent and knowledge. I’m a photographer for goodness sake! I push button tiny buttons for a living! I can do this! I ended up creating a series of story telling images that I am actually really proud of. I wanted to create images that you could feel and hear not just look at. When I view these I hear the traffic, I feel the sun, I see the chaos. It makes me want to run out of my studio and wildly participate in the world. Join me?
You can see the whole collection on my facebook page: Monica Royal Photography. You can also find me here: TW: @monica_royal Instagram: monicaroyal
Special thanks to Crazy Mike for being not so crazy, but brave. I learned a valuable lesson my friend. Thank you! XO