… you’re in the here and now, and you’re in the moment!
In order to get the solid documentary material I went to photograph every possible event and every possible place that would be interesting for Swedish person to attend. I took my camera everywhere I went. At the start of this project I had decided to shoot with Polaroid film camera. But the results of the first photo shoots showed a quality, which I was not satisfied with. I changed my mind directly and used my digital SLR camera instead. I decided to use fixed lenses, just like Cartier-Bresson most often worked with cameras and lenses that were rather limited and simple. His normal setup was a Leica rangefinder with a 50mm lens. Mostly I used 50 mm lens and was shooting with a large aperture (small f-number) in order to get more focus in on a subject. In some cases I used 24mm, when I wanted to include more of environment.
But being a documentary photographer means far more than being a mere machine operator. When photographing people, especially when they are fully aware and expectant of what you are doing, the picture-making process involves more that pressing the button of the camera. There is a long, complex and intensely human process, which makes them unveil their nature. I believe that what makes a picture great is everything that happens before you press the shutter button.
Most of all I liked to photograph at previously chosen places where I could make my observations over a longer period of time. I believe that a big part of a success as a documentary photographer is a sense of observation. I have been studying social anthropology for a while, so I used the skills acquired in observation strategies in the field. Most of days I practised naturalistic observation, thus observing subjects in their natural habitat. This means being unobtrusive, unnoticed, and non-interfering. I spend at least 2 hours at the place allowing people to accept me and forget about me, so that I could capture their natural behaviours. I wanted to feel a subject be relaxed in their environment and unaffected by my presence. Therefore I chose to ‘disappear’ into a scene, “pretending” to be a part of the surrounding and environment. This enabled me to capture more intimate moments in everyday life without the resulting image feeling either too staged or else incoherent. At the same time I was like McCurry would describe “You’re in the present, you’re in the here and now, and you’re in the moment.”
However at every place where I went I had to ask permission to photograph the subjects, besides I had to explain the purpose of this photography project. Actually I found it as a good way to initiate a conversation with the subject and explain my intensions. Besides by being involved and open with the people I photographed I gained their trust, which created a more comfortable environment. Mainly Swedish people did not mind being photographed. Only I found it distracting, that especially children paid too much attention to my presence. They would look straight into the camera with a nice smile on their faces, ready to be photographed.
Documentary photography requires immense and emotional commitment with the situation and peoples being photographed in order to produce effective and emotive photographs. While in the field, I looked for the people and situations that were interesting to me and more or less corresponded to habitus I have done research about. There I had to wait for the moment to come. My intension was to show the feelings of the subject photographed, whether he or she was feeling lonely, bored, and thoughtful or feeling distanced. This I tried to depict through observing activities and relationship interactions, body language, facial expression; also carefully listening in to conversations of the subjects. At the same time it was important to show the environment and were the subject/s were placed. I found it very challenging to capture the right moment and produce a good composition at the same time.
In conclusion of this chapter I would like to add that I believe that it is very important to spend quality time working on every project. Even if that means taking it one step further by going back for a second or third time to visit your subject/s. The more time you spend on a project the more possibilities you create to witness something special or unique that could give your story more depth.