Flash Photography

11 May 2007

a lion of judah

Learning to shoot better is, moreover, a part of learning to see the world differently — through more analytical eyes. Which brings me to Don Imus. This will all make sense, I promise.

My first reaction to the Imus comments was the kind of weary, jaded amusement that I take from everything that seems hopelessly unfair, crude, utterly unremarkable and American. In a word, my reaction was cynical.

On Good Friday, two days after the incident, Don Imus issued his apology and life went on. The best comment I could muster that day was a picture of my sheets. The first New York Times editorial on the incident, published the Monday after the comments were made summed things up this way:

For the time being, though, the apology seemed to be sufficient. [1]

My first reaction to the editorial was, “sufficient, how?” The establishment newspaper suddenly piqued the raw emotion I had failed to summon towards Imus himself. The pattern, the article lamented, is something we should all be accustomed to by now: celebrity expresses intolerance, public outcry, celeb makes the mea culpa rounds, wash, rinse, repeat. Sufficient. The article’s author, David Carr, seemed to be in a similar mildly cynical mode to the one I had found myself; understandably so in his case — he reports on the media.

Weeks later I sat in a slick Manhattan bar sipping Black Russians late into the night with an older family member who was in town for the weekend. The ordeal struck her in a personal and emotional way that it had not, could not, perhaps, have stricken me. “When I was a junior at Tufts University,” she said, “one of nine black people on campus, a girl on my hall spent a night outside of my dorm room protesting; she did it because she was pledging a sorority.” In 1967, protesting an African-American woman’s right to an education was, quite literally, a rite of passage. Studying in her room that night, she did not learn of the protest for another twenty-five years.

That the dignity of African-American women could be treated so flippantly on a national media outlet forty years later was, for her, deeply disturbing.

A week prior to the Imus remark I attended an exclusive party hosted by a major advertising industry publication. That my business partner had finagled an invite for us was a coup. I was and remain honored to have attended a party where I stood next to people I had seen featured in the magazine. I shook hands with the editor. That night, I sipped Jack and coke — I needed to keep my energy up, my spirits even.

About six months prior to the party the city of New York had threatened legal action against the major advertising agencies in the city. Per the Times:

The city’s Human Rights Commission found that hiring of black workers had barely improved since an inquiry found similar problems 40 years ago. [2]

The article noted that, “just 2 percent of the upper echelon of the advertising industry is black.” In reading the publication that hosted the party off-and-on over the course of three years I could probably count the number of African-American directors and creatives I’ve seen on its pages with my fingers — possibly even on one hand. I made a bet with a colleague that at two well-attended advertising industry parties that night, we would not see ten African-American men — “brothers” I called them. I won the bet.

In the years since I’ve been taking pictures I have struggled to learn to use the flash. Of course everyone knows how to use a flash, you just turn it on and, bam. What I’m talking about is using the flash as fill in daylight shooting situations — making the flash (and shadows) seem less obvious. Today, however, was the first time when I was able to confidently identify a flash-fill situation and produce a decent exposure. Even if the composition of the shot is so-so.

Light, whether from the sun or artificially produced, is the agent that enables perception. Shooting daylight flash requires an analytical eye, an understanding of light. If being a content creator and being African-American have any point of intersection it is at this point, the point of perception.

It is my perception that the voices and lives of African-Americans are undervalued in the so-called General Market. The living history of this marginalization is more pervasive than it is decorous to mention. This is a problem that can be solved, in time, by astute observation, by outflanking cynicism, by understanding history, and by telling powerful stories.

In junior high-school I learned that light-years are as long as normal years. Light-years denote distance not time. I wonder, however, in forty years what distance our perception of light has covered.

[1] [2] [3] [4]