Review: Within the Frame, by David duChemin

Within The Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision
Within The Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision

As I was reading this book, something occurred to me. Photography’s become an awful lot like television, not only for the people who view photos, but also, sadly, for many of those who make them. People turn on to tune out, and when it comes to photos, it’s not much different; often as not,  whether it accompanies a news story in a magazine or on a website, the visual barely registers. I think that unfortunately, a lot of times even experienced photographers approach the craft the same way; what’s in the viewfinder, or on that little LCD, barely registers. And that’s to say nothing of what’s in front of the camera, the subject that compelled us to press the shutter button in the first place. Neither audience (reduced to mere “consumers”) nor photographers (reduced to mere “producers”) take much time or trouble engage with what’s in front of them, choosing instead to take an active rather than passive role in the process.

Of course, it doesn’t need to be this way. Maybe it’s a bit presumptuous of me, but it seems that this is one of the larger issues that David duChemin’s addressing with Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision.

Du Chemin, whose specialization in photography for humanitarian causes has taken him all over the world, shows that it’s not enough to bring a photographer’s eye to your work. There are also large doses of (and plenty written on) ethics, getting by in other cultures, and the importance of knowing local laws, customs, and mores. Regardless of the geography, the question remains the same: how do we approach the “other” on his/her ground, and his/her terms, lovingly and respectfully?

You don’t have to set foot within a country mile of Addis Ababa or the Angkor Wat; these things still apply equally on Main Street as they would if you were photographing in Moscow or Marrakesh. So even though a large portion of this book seems almost anthropological, it’s applicable on a local scale, as well. Your task is to make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange, or at least fresher than it was before.

At its heart, then, it’s not about the physical journey, so much as a mental leap; not to be disconnected from our images, and (more importantly) not to be disconnected from our subjects, whether they’re halfway around the world, or just ’round the bend. Yes, there are the requisite bits on technique and gear here, but they’re peripheral to the main thrust of the text, which is perhaps best summed up by duChemin’s now-famous maxim, “Gear is good. Vision is better.”

If there’s a lesson to be drawn here, especially as we add more images to a culture that’s already up to its eyeballs in them, it’s that we should capture the resonant shot, rather than just the obvious or pretty one. Not an easy task, as it requires the photographer to bring to bear not only the artistic and technical skills we too often take for granted, but — more importantly — a mind that’s as open as our eyes are to what’s before us, and a heart that’s compassionate. When we do this, effectively allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable behind the camera as our subjects are before it, we aren’t the only ones who stand a chance of forming, and portraying, deeper connections; those who view our work are more likely to do the same.

Postscript: David duChemin is also the author of VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography, Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images (Voices That Matter) (due in October). You can visit him on his website (which has his portfolio and a blog that’s as insightful as his books), find his e-books on Craft and Vision, find him on Twitter, or follow him on Facebook (the guy’s everywhere).

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