Doug Bruns

No, You’ll Never Do “That.”

In Photography, The infinity of ideas on October 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm

At one time I owned and curated a gallery of fine art photography. (Never mind that I have a problem with the words “fine-art”

An Alison Wright Portrait

An Alison Wright Portrait

as an adjective to anything. It was pure marketing.) Among the photographers I represented in my gallery was National Geographic photographer, Alison Wright, a photographer who had spent her career photographing indigenous people of endangered cultures.

One afternoon a large woman wearing a hat came into the gallery. She had her young son in tow. He was maybe fifteen. They looked at the photographs, brilliant portraits of people living on the Tibetan plateau, of people in the jungles of Burma, remote China and elsewhere in Asia. “Look at these, Jimmy,” said the large woman in the hat. “You could do that. You could do that with the camera you got for Christmas.” Jimmy looked at the images, peered into the eyes of the subjects and said nothing. I do not know if Jimmy believed he could “do that” or if Jimmy even knew what “that” was. I wanted to slap my palm on the surface of my desk. I wanted to shout, “No. No way in hell will you do that, Jimmy. You know how I know, Jimmy? I know you will not invest twenty years of your life getting to know a place, getting to know a people. You will not sleep on the stained floor of a clinic, or sweat your balls off in a steamy jungle, or leave the comfort of your family, or house, your country for God knows how long. And you know what, Jimmy. Even if you were to do all those things, you would not do “this.” You would do something altogether different. “This” can only be done once. Whatever you do, it will not be this.” I wanted the large woman in the hat to stop filling poor Jimmy with delusion. What he was peering at was not common. It was not as simple as “doing that.”

I fear we have lost the capacity to recognize the authentic. That seems the ominous leveling nature of modern society. Hence, I rail!

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