Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Walking women

Women walking home near the Namokora camp for internally displaced persons. Two decades of war in northern Uganda have left almost two million people displaced, though progress in peace talks in 2006 initiated a small movement to return to home villages. (Paul Jeffrey)

A photographer does well to think of her or his audience as jaded. Unless you are documenting something really new, most people have already seen so many images of fill-in-the-blank-with-the-project-you’re-shooting that one more image that looks like the rest they’ve seen isn’t going to noticeably budge their applause-o-meter. So one of the easiest ways to garner a fresh perspective is to simply change the angle of view. If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve said this several times in past Pictures of the Week. Yet since it’s a new year, I’m starting afresh with some basics. So pay attention, there may be a test one of these days.

Case in point: These women are walking through the Namokora camp for people who have been internally displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. If I just stood nearby and shot a picture of two women walking along with stuff on their heads, your brain will see it and your built-in picture editor will say, “I’ve already seen this. Nothing new here. Keep moving.” And you turn the page. But simply by getting my clothes dirty I get a new angle that will fool your mental image filter into letting the picture into the front of your consciousness.

Trouble is, it’s hard to look through the viewfinder while laying down (though I do it sometimes, as you see below in Haiti), so I often end up holding the camera down away from my eyes, shooting blindly, making educated guesses about how to aim the camera and where to focus. That’s a very low percentage shot, but every once in a while I get lucky and I haven’t cut off their feet or heads. There are several other factors that have to all line up correctly, like–in the picture here–the women not holding the bundle on their heads with their left arm, which would have blocked their faces, and their leg positions should imply motion. They’re also not looking at me, which is good. That usually comes after I’ve been photographing them a bit, laying down in the dirt as they pass, then leaping up and running ahead to a new vantage point to get ready to click the camera as they pass by. Repeat a few times, and they get used to the show and just ignore me. I may or may not get a good photo out of it, but usually the subjects get a good laugh.

Paul laying down on the job in Haiti.

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