The Camera's Cold Eye

AIM a camera at your everyday, average person, and usually he or she changes.

Suddenly a forced smile is offered, or a face becomes serious and sour. People say, "Don't take my picture," or "Where shall I stand?" Or even more enigmatically, nothing is said. They stop what they are doing just when the camera is raised to photograph what they are doing. They freeze before the lens.

For so many others, though, the only life they have is in front of cameras. Multibillion-dollar industries depend on people who love to be photographed.

My conclusion is that the power shifts that occur during the making of a photographic image, and the guile and innocence of humanity, are as important as the ideas in books.

For reasons that have not been fully explained or explored to my satisfaction, the camera may be one of the most powerful mechanisms ever devised to alter our perception of ourselves, all of nature around us, and the many ways we come to conclusions.

When photographer Neal J. Menschel was with this Egyptian shopkeeper, the man was animated, warm, and jovial. But when Menschel asked if he could take his photo, the man said yes, but changed. Menschel leaned in close enough to reveal pores, wrinkled brow, whiskers, and clicked a haunting, unsettling image of a man who had been a veritable comic only seconds before.

"When photojournalists arrive," says Menschel, "we influence what happens."

Would that it were not that way in photojournalism. But it is.

Does photojournalism have the power to influence what kind of people we become?

If so, trust the photographers who know the camera is a cold eye without a shred of judgment.

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