A recent video published by Canon THE LAB: DECOY - A portrait session with a twist shows just how much of an impact we as photographers have on or work. What we put into it, what we choose to leave out, how we present our subjects, these all deeply affect the finished product.
The premise is that 6 different photographers are given 6 different 1 sentence descriptions of the same man. The video shows how the photographers armed with their brief descriptions choose to photograph him so very differently. They use everything at their disposal to craft their images; lighting, posing, expression, props and composition are all used to convey the photographers tainted view of the man they have been asked to photograph.
If it's one thing I've learnt shooting the streets, no matter what is happening in front of you, no matter what you imagine for your subject, there is so much more to them than you could imagine. None of us are two dimensional.
The most interesting twist in this video is that none of the stories are true. These carefully crafted portraits do not represent this man at all. Or do they? Are they any less valid because they were crafted out of fiction? I'm reminded of the essay left to principal Vernon in the final scenes of The Breakfast club:
"You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain... ...and an athlete... ...and a basket case... ...a princess... ...and a criminal."
It is so difficult in a portrait to show all the facets of a person - apart from the whole "projection" of the photographers ideas, at best you're lucky to cram 2 elements of a person into a shot. Yes, you can convey various elements strong, soft, determined, nurturing, pensive, worldly, joyous etc.. but I'm talking about on a deeper level. The essence of the shot can only truly convey one facet, there has to be one main theme or story to the photo. Yes there is often a lot going on in street photography but there is one focal point - one story and thats what we as photographers choose to elevate or highlight in our subjects or in our scene.
And the thing is - that's ok. As street photographers we rely on the limited and often lightening fast blips of information to inform us of who we are shooting - what is the scene? - what is the story? -when is the light going to illuminate the subject just so? Yes there are times when we can luxuriate in a whole 30 seconds to get into the right position - or take multiple shots, but 99% of the time the moment passes too quickly. In the blink of an eye we have to decide how we are going to represent them in our image and capture the story for posterity.
Street photography is after all about capturing the moment.