Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2003/11/05

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Subject: Re: [Leica] re: The Decisive Moment is gone
From: Adam Bridge <>
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2003 10:16:27 -0800

I think most science/engineering folks will tell you that by measuring a system
you disturb that system: the art is to do so in a minimal way.

In documentary/news photography there's a clear interaction between the subject
and the recorder and that interaction is scaled by the closeness to the instant
mass media.

That's why Ted is able to point to TV cameras and quite properly claim that
their presence alters the behavior of the subjects. You only have to watch local
television news (at least in the United States) where the reporter is near a
crowd and there are instantly a hundred kids hopping around in the background so
they can be on live TV.

Political crowds are themselves mastered by this too so events are staged for
the best media coverage. It's just the way the world works.

Would there be fewer confrontations or confrontations of less severity without
the cameras? I'm not sure and there's no way to test.

Even in small situations such as those described by Tina and Ted there is an
influence - but one that is reduced as these photographers gradually inject
themselves into the world-system they are attemting to cover so they become a
part of the background. People are used to them, they become less of an
interest. They still disturb events but they do so much less than they might
because the work at being invisible.

How much the photographer should perturb the system in order to get the shot he
wants is an ethical question. Our cultures are pretty much against such things
these days when "it's all relative" is the watchword of the day. With no ethical
or moral structure to inform the photographer about proper behavior what do we
expect to have happen.

This isn't new. 

I'll point to the opening of Haskell Wexler's terrific film "Medium Cool" (1969)
in which a news photographer on a motorcycle comes upon a dawn car crash. He
pulls off, photographs the crash, the victim, and then without stopping to
deliver aid or call for help he's on his motorcycle and off to the newsroom to
get the film processed in time for the morning news. The film was shot while the
1968 Democratic National Convention was being held in Chicago and was filmed
using those real events as a backdrop.

I would submit that compared to the TV coverage of that event the film hardly
perterbed events at all. <grin>

Adam Bridge
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