The community you deserve is the community you help build.
For the past 9 years, I have been blogging here on photography-related topics. I like to think that PhotoShelter has helped the photo community in some form or fashion – whether you’re a customer, you’ve downloaded one of our free educational guides, or you’ve been an occasional reader of the blog. I am opinionated, and I don’t always get things right, but I try to be constructive to a community I care deeply about.
Thus, I have a platform – a pulpit from which to “preach” and a community that is willing to listen, and hopefully we can foment salient discussions on issues that are important to photographers.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve struggled with whether it is appropriate to discuss a non-photography-related topic. I realize that many of you will find it distasteful and inappropriate. But after some contemplation, I’ve decided that there are times in our lives where issues matter enough, that we need to take some risks. Even if that means alienating our audience, our customers, our friends. This is the only time in 9 years when I have exercised this privilege.
Wherever you fall on interpreting the events and issues of Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere, I think we can agree that there is a sense of unease and unrest that plagues the nation. It is a troubling time, but one that gives us time for real reflection. Despite all the advances we’ve made as a nation, I believe we still have a major problem with race. A seemingly intractable problem that is so ingrained in some areas of the country, that it seems “American,” but in actuality, the behavior goes against many of the fundamental principles upon which the nation was founded. We can squabble over specific instances, but there is incontrovertible data to suggest we are far from a post-racial society, and that people of color of viewed very differently than anyone else. We try to conquer oppression around the world, but fail to do so in our own backyard. There are, no doubt, race baiters, but there is also undoubtedly racism. To suggest otherwise would be foolish.
We also have a police problem. In an era of the lowest crime that we’ve ever experienced, police are increasingly militarized and showing up to the most innocuous situations with guns blazing. Instead of trying to support the community and diffuse situations, some police are looking to “kick ass.” The result is that police are seen as outsiders to the communities that they are supposed to protect. And whether you’re pro-government or anti-government, I think you can agree that it is government at its worst. The people we entrust to keep us safe are doing the opposite. They are literally killing us.
I have been at a loss as to how to change the status quo. Protests mobilize our expressions of solidarity, but as we’ve seen with the Occupy movements, they rarely prompt change. There are clearly some systemic issues that need to be addressed at many different levels in many different organizations to bring about true change. But there must be something we can do now to change the tide in our own daily lives.
Photographers constantly express how important it is to feel empathy for their subjects. We talk about respect. We talk about making our subjects comfortable. We talk about trying not to take advantage of our subjects, while still staying true to our storytelling goals. This is not theoretical. It is not guidance for someone else. It is how we conduct ourselves when we photograph another. Thus, it seems to me that the most easily implementable solution that YOU can enact to contribute to a solution to this national crisis is to exhibit more empathy even when you’re not picking up your camera.
I don’t care if you’re black or white, Republican or Democrat. We are so polarized right now that we fail to hear one another. And we justify our bad behavior by pointing the finger rather than being introspective. We are unwilling to step into one another’s shoes. This is our national tragedy. Instead of this being our problem, it is his problem or her problem. There is little camaraderie to be found. It is a never-ending blame game.
I’m not always certain of my convictions, but I am certain that something significant needs to change. Americans live in the greatest country in the world. I truly believe that. Yet for all its greatness, we struggle to treat each other as equals. Each of us needs to individually try harder to make our respective communities better and greater. Why shouldn’t photographers lead the way?
The community you deserve is the community you help build. What community will you deserve?