Opinion: Photography as a social catalyst

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Carlyle Addy is a sophomore journalism major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected] 

Carlyle Addy

Photography can be a catalyst for some great relationships. Often you can tell how much one person cares for another by the way they position themselves when they’re asked to take a picture together.

But what happens when you’re on the other side of the lense? What is your relationship to your subject for that instant when you become a photographer?

Students in multimedia techniques got a chance to experience that exact feeling this week. Part of their assignment was to take portraits of five people they hadn’t met before. This means that more than 100 people were wandering around Kent’s campus and at least one of them probably considered taking your picture.

This isn’t just a photojournalism thing, though. We all take pictures of people we care about and there’s something to be said for taking pictures of random strangers.

For one thing, a team of specialists at the company that designed your smart-phone spent at least several hours working out a way to get that camera in it in the first place. When you think about it in those terms, using it seems almost like an obligation.

When you take pictures of the people you actually want pictures of, it helps to have a working knowledge of photography and a feel for your camera. Those things come only with practice, so taking as many pictures as you want is worth every bit of the effort.

The students were also supposed to ask their subjects some personal questions in a Humans of New York style of interviewing. Admittedly, this was the most uncomfortable part of the experience.

There’s almost nothing people like to talk about more than themselves. The issue is that not everyone wants to talk about themselves with everyone they meet, especially not after an unknown outsider has just taken their picture. You have to combat this with a winning smile, a forcefully positive personality and, more than anything, a willing — if sometimes shy subject.

You learn a lot about people this way and you can meet people you might never have talked to otherwise. Our generation should start this trend. We have Twitter and Instagram. We have tiny studios that we carry around in our pockets and selfie sticks to make them even more versatile. We have every awkward pose you could think of at our disposal.

There has not been a time in the history of the human race when we were more media-intensive than we are now. That doesn’t mean we’re anti-social. In fact, we should make it mean the opposite. Our use of technology should make us, if anything, overly social.

Sure, it might be a bit uncomfortable in the moment, but it’s worth it when you look through your photo library sometime in the future and have to read the captions to figure out who is in half of your photographs.

Carlyle Addy is an opinion writer for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].