Archive for August 6th, 2010

The Kiss

In 1950 a young actress named Françoise Bornet and her boyfriend kissed in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris so that Robert Doisneau could photograph the kiss.  The photo became famous and brought Doisneau lots of royalty money.  Decades later, Bornet sued him for a share of the royalties, because she in effect had worked with him to get this shot and she won.  This was a posed photo, in other words.  But its fame was built on the assumption that it was a snap shot.

The spontaneity of the kiss in Times Square on VJ Day in 1945 is debatable.  Is the nurse really surprised?  Yes, notice how she’s pulling down her dress.  No, notice how she’s closing her eyes.  The sailor was tracked down later.  His name was Glenn McDuffie.  He said, it was spontaneous, he just saw her and grabbed her.  Others recall that he had been walking through the festive crowd and whenever he saw an attractive young women he kissed her.  In this scenario, it’s easy to imagine the photographer, Alfred Eisenstadt, walking ahead of him, ready to document  his next kissing impulse.  The photo would not exactly be posed, but it would be anticipated.  In any case, Eisenstadt did not ask his two subjects for permission to take the picture.

Anticipating the next move is what Henri Cartier-Bresson (1909-2004) was great at.  He must have been watching this couple out of the corner of his eye –and his camera—in the certainty that they would kiss sooner or later.  We can be sure that he did not ask them to act out a kiss for his him.  We can also be sure that there was no paperwork involved.

I’m not a flaneur ( flaneuse?) like Cartier-Bresson and our café life in Chicago may not be as picturesque as that of Paris in the 60’s, but when I take the CTA and the Metra my tiny camera is always at hand because while I’m pretending to read the New Yorker I’m actually indulging my passion for people-watching.  In response to my post of July 19, a thoughtful reader suggested that I be sensitive to the privacy of the people I photograph and ask permission before I click that shutter. Let me attempt a defense of photography, possibly as an art, but certainly as a way of making images that has been with us for about a hundred and eighty years.   I photograph in public because the ordinary strikes me as beautiful.  A fleeting moment, unconscious,  unposed, not intellectualized, just breathtakingly beautiful.  The moment often involves people attending to their unconscious, unposed chores and diversions. My camera is not accusing you, it is not judging you, it is merely recording you as you present yourself.  Nor do I show the photos in a context that would denigrate the anonymous person in the photo.   I can only say, if you are exposing this much skin—in public–it must be because you want to be seen this way.  As for the belief that the camera sucks out your soul, surely we can’t cling to that superstition any more, even if we could define those words.  I photograph in public because, well, because it’s all there.

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