I am going to do something a bit different this week because of an experience I had recently, related to people who suffer from Parkinson's disease. The photo above is of my dad. He passed away nearly three years ago. He had Parkinson's disease. While technically, Parkinson's did not "kill" him, it devastated his body so much that his body just could not deal with new challenges.
This blog will first relate to photography and how we look at subjects. Then, I want to speak out a bit about Parkinson's disease. This photo was taken a few years before my dad died, though the Parkinson's disease was really causing problems for him. Yet, when I saw him looking thoughtfully at his great grandchild at a family gathering, I saw a man who was still a strong man in spite of the disease. The light combined with a telephoto lens isolated him and provided me with a strong image that respected him. I really liked it in black-and-white because it strengthened the light and the moment.
The photo goes against all the "technical" rules. I shot it handheld with a 70-300mm lens at 1/25 sec. I did try to brace myself and do the best I could, plus I was using a lens with image stabilization. It has a lot of noise from a relatively high ISO for the time. It is not perfect technically. Yet I feel it is perfect in respect. I sometimes get the feeling that photographers get too tied to the technology and forget that the ultimate goal of photography is to create images that connect with others and/or express something important to the photographer.
I strongly believe that photography can and should respect the subject. I think that sometimes people trivialize subjects, from people to nature, by being more interested in the effects, the technology, than in the subject and showing it with honor and dignity. (That said, I do have to qualify this slightly. One of my inspirations as a photographer has been Arnold Newman. He was one who had great respect for his subjects, except for a well-known shot of Alfried Krupp. Krupp was an "important" industrialist during World War II whose family owned a key munitions plant for the Nazis and who deliberately used Jewish slave labor in the factory. Krupp served a minimal time in jail after the war for that. Newman was assigned by a news magazine to photograph Krupp in 1963. Newman was Jewish. Newman created an amazing portrait of Krupp that definitely made a statement. In this case, Newman still had a photograph of respect – this time respecting the Jews who had suffered because of this man.)
I think this image of my dad shows him as a person, not as a person being crippled by Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's is a difficult disease. It fights the muscles of the body. My sister also has Parkinson's and though hers is "controlled" by medication, that control is a relative term. Though you would never know it from watching her go through her day, my sister fights her body all of the time. She says that it can be like walking through a field with cement blocks on your feet.
That is why it both saddens and angers me when I hear of people who treat anyone with a debilitating disease with a lack of respect. I am certainly strongly aware of Parkinson's disease and its effects within my family. That probably makes me more sensitive. I will admit that.
Still, it is very hard for me when I learn of people who want someone who has Parkinson's disease to respond to the world the way that they do. They don't seem to have any idea what is like to be constantly fighting a battle with your body, especially someone who is elderly like my dad was. As if it weren't enough to be dealing with the usual challenges of aging to then have to fight the physically draining battle with Parkinson's. Sadly, I heard of a family from a mutual acquaintance that has an elderly person who is struggling with Parkinson's and seems to be getting little respect from others in the family. They say this sufferer is lazy and seem to be convinced this person is just doing this to annoy them. Where is the respect for a fellow human being, one who suffers a fate none of us would want?
Photography has the potential for showing the world with respect, a potential I believe in. I don't think every photograph has to be serious and deep, but I do think that photographs will reflect the photographer. If a photographer does not respect this or her subject, if he or she comes to that subject with thoughtless preconceptions, then the photograph will show that, regardless of what that subject may be.
It is worth looking at our own attitudes as we photograph. That can affect the quality of an image every bit as much as any new camera, lens or software. What is in our hearts does matter as we photograph.