Real Photographs


There’s a story in APERTURE magazine of a man, Lincoln Kirstein, and his recollection of 1942, a photo of him and the friend he called Jerry who didn’t want to be drafted.

Reading it, it struck me that there are lots of photos that are ‘real’ – let’s say Nick Ut’s Napalm Girl photo – but what Jerry meant by ‘real’ was that he could see himself in that photo – and it was a dangerous place. Then ‘real’ becomes real when it is ‘relevant to the possibilities in my life’. And that’s a whole deeper meaning of ‘real’.

We see photos of provincial life, stifled life – that strangle and repulse us. But that’s OK because we are free of that and we are not going to fall into that trap. But getting drafted and ending up ‘shot up’ as Jerry said – that’s real.

And like firefighters who head ‘towards’ and not ‘away’ from the flames – the real that we have to portray is the one that gets to the heart of what we fear – because a photograph is a reaction-inducing object.