New Years Day

Published by mustafah on January 7th, 2009 in Essay, Photos, Technique, Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Elsie Hart, 89-year-old librarian, b. 1920 Topeka, Kansas, 1/1/09

Darren Hart, son of Elsie Hart, 1/1/09

Jon & Sarah McBride, future parents, 1/1/09

I’ve never used medium format before, at least not for anything serious. I realize that by placing ourselves behind a black chunk of technology, a new dichotomy begins. It requires us to become removed from the subject in some capacity, whether that is the comfort and ease of the subject or that of the photographer, who has almost a level of social protection that is provided to them by the 35mm format. The better the photographer, the less this reality affects the nature of our photographs.

If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, then by hiding ours during photographing, it is possible that the relationship between the subject and photographer changes in ways we may not commonly suspect.

In simply changing the orientation of one’s camera, it reveals an opportunity to connect constantly with your subjects. There is one thing I am sure of: the best photographers can move beyond that small handicap inherent in 35mm photography to observe, connect, and remain relevant when photographing portraits. Technique, style, composition all become secondary to content and in portraiture, that content is revealed in different moments and forms. All we must do is press a button at the right moment.

For a few hours on New Years Day, I was not a photographer. I was a student learning something about someone else’s life, with a camera on my hip.

6 Responses to “New Years Day”

  1. sean Says:

    January 7th, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    dude! you’re so money.

  2. James Says:

    January 7th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Good work. And good food for thought.

    I would like to try my hand with a Hasselblad some day – it truly does involve a different approach. I have a friend who has had a real hard time trying to shift from shooting with an old Hasselblad Medium Format camera to her new Canon 35mm 1DS MKIII. And, I can see how it is a paradigm shift.

  3. julius Says:

    January 8th, 2009 at 3:13 am


    Im not quite sure if i understand what your point is. What “social protection” is there to 35mm that isnt there in other formats, including digital? and do you think that there is a difference to your typical subject? In my experience, most subjects dont know/care about the difference between camera formats but they do recognize the size of lenses. Usually the larger the lens, people are generally more intimidated and wary toward the photographer. I am curious to know exactly why you think shooting 35mm “socially protects” you from your subjects or vise versa?

    Also I disagree with the notion that we are hiding our eyes when we photograph. Photographing people is one of the most personal interactions I have. I make aware exactly what I am doing by just pointing the lens at my subject. If anything I am actually magnifying my eye and making the subject completely aware of what I am doing. If you are honest about what you are photographing, the subject will pick up on that and respond honestly. One eye may be closed when you look down the barrel of the lens but the other one is wide open and ready for a dialogue, almost screaming “THIS IS WHAT IM LOOKING AT AND I AINT GONNA HIDE IT!!!!”


  4. mustafah Says:

    January 8th, 2009 at 10:14 am


    The “social protection” I mentioned was the photographer’s ability, during difficult interactions or occurrences in “real time” to be able to continue to be removed from the situation in some way, whether that is emotionally or as person present. This is most prominent in photojournalism I think. We are setting exposures, watching bodies align, scanning, scanning, scanning. We are not looking to connect with every subject in our composition and so, I feel 35mm (either format) offers some level of “social protection” in terms of engaging our subject matter.

    Of course, this isn’t a blanket rule and some really talented photographers move past this and engage their subjects continually, to put them at ease, to earn trust, to find out more about them, whatever. Some are like ghosts and photograph, never talking. By the way, I’m not saying this “social protection” is ideal or something I like, but it is a reality I notice most prominently when the subject is on edge.

    I agree with you about photographing people being one of the most personal interactions. I just happened to find a new level to that by using medium format for the first time.

    And we do look pretty ridiculous, holding up a black brick to our faces and talking. Man, I feel weird sometimes.

  5. Wouter Brandsma Says:

    January 9th, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    The second photograph of Elsie Hart and the photograph of her son are absolutely stunning Mustafah. It connects so strongly with me.

  6. Jessel Says:

    January 12th, 2009 at 5:06 am

    thoughts that truly makes the mind wonder — sometimes its better to become the student — to reconnect — later days