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People and cameras
Feb. 17, 2014
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by Ivan Raconteur

Those of us who toil in the trenches of the newspaper business take a lot of photos, and over the years, I have observed some things about the way people respond to having their photograph taken.

Generally speaking, kids are easy.

Not when it comes to school photos, perhaps. Kids have a natural aversion to being forced to sit for any kind of posed, formal photograph.

I am referring to informal photos, in which kids are allowed to do their own thing in their own native environment.

Under those conditions, most children are very accommodating and go out of their way to ham it up and allow themselves to be photographed.

Kids also tend to be very expressive, which is why they make great subjects. As we get older, we learn to wear the mask. We learn to keep our feelings hidden. With kids, everything is near the surface, and good photographers are able to capture that.

If there is a downside, it is that kids, like pets, generally don’t remain motionless for long, so one has to be quick, and probably a bit lucky.

I am not much good at photographing children. Just as wild animals can smell fear, children can detect people who aren’t used to having kids around, and they exploit our inexperience.

Elderly people are also generally willing to allow us to take their photos.

Perhaps this is because people who have reached a certain age are comfortable with themselves. They don’t need to impress anyone.

Like children, the faces of the elderly tend to be very expressive. They have been through a lot, and their experience can be read on their weathered faces.

So, the very young and the very old don’t mind having their photos taken.

It’s the people in between who can be tricky.

I hear more objections from people in their middle years than from those at either end of the age spectrum.

I’ve never quite understood that.

At no time in my career have I worked in a market with an especially large Amish population, so I don’t think that is the problem. I have never had a sense that the objections to being photographed were based on religious convictions.

Nor have I spent any time working among cultures that believed allowing someone to photograph them would steal their souls (at least no one has mentioned that concern), so that can’t be it.

I really can’t explain why some people don’t like to have their photos taken. It seems rather silly when one thinks about it. These people don’t live in caves. They are frequently out in public, so it stands to reason that people in the community already know what they look like.

And yet, I have seen grown men and women dive under tables or behind vehicles to avoid appearing in a photograph.

Teenagers can go either way.

Many seem to avoid cameras, but I suspect that has more to do with rebellion and asserting independence than with a specific aversion to cameras.

That is how it was with me, anyway. If one were to gather all the photos of me in my teenage years, apart from the required school photos, they could be counted on one hand. I had disdain for everything in those days, including being photographed.

It is obvious today, more than ever, that teens don’t object to being photographed. Social media sites are rampant with evidence of this. They just like to be photographed on their own terms, and if there isn’t a photographer handy, they have no qualms about taking their own photos and posting them online.

Photos are actually quite popular. I suspect most of us enjoy looking at photos. We like seeing what our friends and neighbors have been up to, and photos allow us to share their experiences.

So, objections to being photographed aren’t a reflection on the photos themselves.

I suspect most people don’t really mind having their photos taken.

Most adults eventually consent to having their photos taken, but often not until after they have put up some show of good-natured objection.

The exception to these rules is the rarest of birds, the “photo fly.” These people have never met a lens they didn’t like, and they flock to cameras like moths to a flame.

A lot of elected officials fall into this category.

I think politicians have just learned the value of photos, and realize exposure equals votes.

This being an election year, I am sure we will receive enthusiastic cooperation from candidates anytime a photo opportunity presents itself.

The enthusiasm of the average politician for being photographed lasts until the time they find themselves in an embarrassing or compromising position, at which point they suddenly find it less convenient or desirable to be photographed.

Despite the challenges, photographs of local people have long been an important part of community newspapers, and I suspect they always will.

Our job is to report births, deaths, and everything in between, and photographs are a wonderful way to illustrate that journey.


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