O, Wonder!: Thoughts on Photography

Some photos make me think beyond the subject: how did the photographer get there, how did they climb so high, how could they elicit such sincerity? I think of photos of wartime, photos on the front pages; how was someone just standing there with a camera? How could someone take a picture of their subject who was crying over their dead son or holding their hanging limbs? I wonder how it would feel to be photographed if I was in pain. I wonder if there are people who protect photographers, who protect the image.

Yet however much it seems to be a passive gesture, it isn’t. Taking a picture is a vulnerable position to put yourself in. Your focus is completely taken away, your eyes are behind a lens, your arms are lifted. You are surrendering to the angle, to the light, to the subject, to whatever happens to you while you take this picture. I think of that while I look at things here, in Buenos Aires. I don’t take as many photos as I want to because I am not in a place that I know as wholeheartedly as Oakland or Northampton. People that I don’t know swarm around me, the landscapes are lit for only a moment. Everything that I seem to know disappears as soon as I understand it.

Sometimes I wish the world were on pause. I could walk for hours, taking pictures without asking anyone to move. Nobody would stare at me, nobody would laugh at me, nobody would hurt me. Truthfully, I wish taking pictures were passive. Perhaps in my amateur photography you can tell that I want that. Or maybe that’s just me.

I think of my mom when I think of active and happy photography. She is never afraid to ask someone to smile, whether they are her daughters or a stranger. Once, we were in the car in San Francisco at a stoplight, and a horse-drawn carriage stopped next to us. Inside, there was a newlywed couple eating sandwiches. My mom screamed, opened the door to the van, leaned out while holding onto the handle of the door and asked if she could take a picture. In the photograph, they are smiling through their full mouths. We all laughed then, but my sisters and I hate it when she gets into her “photographer phase”. She just asks everyone if she can take their picture. I remember she stood at the beginning of the line for the procession of my sister’s graduation and took a portrait of everyone in her eighth grade class. My sister was furious.

I think now about the times when I was embarrassed that she was so shameless, willing to stick a lens in anyone’s face. But, when I look back now, there are portraits. A woman she had never met once called her and asked to buy one of her photos, because it was the last image of her husband when he was alive.

The world is full. Full of walking portraits of people who might not be here tomorrow, landscapes draped in light, landscapes draped in shadows. There are things that are just captured by happenstance: “Oh, the light, stay there.” Then, there are things that must be captured: war, pain, injustice, my sister’s graduation, Buenos Aires.

The world is full, and I think that is what makes photography so brave.



RUIZ. Olivia.portraitOlivia Ruiz is a double major in Sociology and Spanish. Her dream is to work at an archive abroad where she will be able to use her Spanish and Portuguese. She would like to take part in preserving history and making it accessible to whichever community she is apart of. 

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