Point of view is a critical choice in story-telling. It’s true in photography, in fiction, in news media, and in national discourse. Wide image or narrow focus? Deep depth of field, or narrow? What story do we want to tell? I’ve been wanting to explore the art of street photography, and I read some eye-opening advice about photographing people on Otto von Munchow’s blog.  He recommends using a wide angle lens over a telephoto lens because it “places the person in its surroundings; you get a connection between the person and his or her environment, which adds depth – literally and figuratively – to the visual content.” I look at Otto’s pictures of people in context, and I feel a human connection, a better understanding, and even compassion.

What does photography have to do with national discourse? Thursday is the one year anniversary of the USA Supreme Court decision to strike down portions of the Defense Of Marriage Act. “DOMA” is a law preposterous in both title and alleged remedy: to protect heterosexual marriage by prohibiting same-sex marriage. It seems to me that DOMA is one of the few subjects of national discourse recently in the US — actual thought and consideration and discussion about a very heated subject. And, I saw a documentary on the Vietnam war, and compared it to the lack of images about the war in Afghanistan, and I’ve been distressed by the narrow and shallow coverage of climate change. All this led to a discussion about national discourse and its demise.

I think point of view in our news media is one reason we have so little national discourse in the US, especially these days. It’s uncomfortable to get close in, to feel impact on actual lives, to connect with people and plants and animals far away from us, to realize planetary implications of our choices. What would our national discourse look like if news was intended to “get a connection between the person and his or her environment“. Would we have actual national discourse on the subject of climate change, global war, or the surveillance state? How much do we want to know? How much do we want to feel? Is our focus on me, today, or is it on the world we’re creating?

23 Replies to “Photography & National Discourse”

    1. Thank you so much, Gunta. It’s clear as I look over last year’s vacation photos that people have become so much more the focus, so much more *interesting*. It is good to hear this from you.


  1. Thank you for the nice words and the link to my post. Unfortunately you are right, there is far too little discourse in the US, and part of it is due to the uniformity of the national media. Except when it comes to same sex marriage or abortion – which the rest of the world has long stopped discussing. Besides that, your images are really great, you did very well in using the wide angle to connect people with the viewer and the surroundings.


    1. Thank you for commenting, Otto. Yes, whether in media or in politics, our progressive vs conservative factions differentiate themselves from each other with reference to domestic issues (domestic meaning both within our borders and within our homes). There’s too much exploration of those subjects, and to little discourse on issues of global concern. When it comes to photographing people – it’s simultaneously appealing and intimidating. I am learning a lot about myself and about communication as I learn about photography. Thank you for contributing to this.


  2. I think your photos are marvelous, each one tells a story. And brava for calling out to our “huddled masses” to step out and speak up. To quote my 60’s protester brother-in-law, “Where is the outrage?”


    1. Thanks for that comment on my pictures. Regarding the news media – I have a “thing” about reading, and news, and media integrity (perhaps you could tell). I collect old books. I taught in the literacy project. I dropped my subscription to the L.A. Times during the 2008 presidential primaries. I even quit sponsoring NPR for the same reasons. Just today I was chatting with my neighbor about the civil war in Iraq, and they mentioned Iraq’s former leader … Kadafi (!). So many people are of good will, and they do care, they’re just woefully uninformed.


  3. Too many goodness in one post!!! I broke my wide angle lens. 😦 So right now, I try to compromise as much as I can with the things I see. I really love telephotos and zoom lens, but I fully recognise the value of wide angle lens.


    1. Thank you Rommel. I am trying to find the courage to get closer to people when I photograph them. I even ask permission when I can. Is that still street photography? I don’t know. Probably not.


  4. Beautiful photos that draw one in. I felt as if in your shoes, behind the lens, and yet envious for not being at such a setting in person. I appreciate your reference to the ripping down of DOMA. a harmful, stupid law. I’ve had much difficulty with any reference to religion. I cringe when I hear it mentioned. For all the harms certain so-called religious people have done and continue to do to others, in the name of their warped interpretations of religious doctrine, their lack of understanding of history, their inability to put the foundation of their beliefs in context. I’m thinking you’re reaching beyond the institution, though, and while I must admit to never having been a religious person, never having been taught other than what I have sought out for myself, I have extreme difficulty in understanding the concept, outside of my own personally-shaped beliefs. I enjoy reading what you’ve written. ~SueBee


    1. Thank you so much, Sue, for your thoughtful comment. For quite some time I was very religious, now I have abandoned all formal churches but have continued on that path on my own. I have more faith and more hope, but no doctrine. I am better for it, I think. I’m thankful that I never fell so far down that particular silo that I condemned other folks for not sharing my belief space.


      1. Thank you for your reply. I’ve worried ever since clicking “post comment” that I may have offended, that my anger toward certain people/groups may have come off the wrong way, or that you felt my anger directed at you. I sincerely hope not, as that wasn’t my intent, at all, not even remotely in my brain. I’ve worked hard to get past my anger, still more work to do. I am also happy to read where you’re at, on your journey through life. I’m thankful, too, you didn’t fall down that silo!


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