I recently learned (via my friend Natalia) that Annie Liebovitz once said, “When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them.”
I feel that way about writing. I’m always dreaming up series of interviews I’d like to conduct, usually with people I know vaguely but want to know better – my smart, funny yoga instructor; a speaker I’ve encountered while attending conferences for my job; characters who have influenced my daily life in NYC who I secretly want to have a heart-to-heart with, like the guy at the coffee stand at 32nd and Madison who always slips me free pastries. Now that I’m transitioning professionally after six years at Idealist, I hope to launch at least one of these projects; stay tuned here.
When it comes to photography I haven’t been in this mindset. My impulses start closer to home. Granted, Annie Liebovitz can probably say “I’d like to know [insert name of any person on the planet]” and find a way to make a photo shoot happen. But these days I feel most compelled to grab a camera in one of two situations: when I’m exploring a place I want to know (expect lots more pictures of Chicago as I settle in there), or when I’m with a person I already know and I want to document them, as naturally as possible, right in that moment.
That’s why I loved taking pictures of my cousin this weekend; she’s eight months pregnant and wanted photos of herself practicing yoga. It’s a delightful thing to have someone you love say, “Can you bring your camera over and snap away while I move myself and my third trimester belly into a headstand?” and to be trusted to make that feel fun and comfortable. Or (brag alert) for two dear friends to say, “We could have chosen a local photographer for our wedding abroad this August, but we thought about it and we really want you there with us.”
Would I do pregnant belly yoga photo shoots for people I don’t know? Uh, I didn’t know it until this weekend, but SURE. Do I want to drum up more wedding gigs? Totally. For that matter, do I know that if my writing projects are going to grow (or a candidate I support is going to win or an event I run is going to happen), I’ll need to step outside my comfort zone and make some cold calls? Yes.
I want to put myself out there as an artist, documentarian, facilitator, advocate. I get why it’s important to “build my brand” if I’m going to make that happen. But I want to do it in a way that keeps relationships at the center. Relationships are my spark and my engine and they always have been.
I’m sure Annie Liebovitz doesn’t have deep relationships with every single person she’s photographed. But I think I hear what homegirl is saying. And I’m going to practice saying who (and where and what) I want to know.
Photo: New York City, June 2012.