A Letter To My Young Photographer Friend

Dear Amanda,

Thinking about what we do and reflecting on our actions are two very rare attributes which I like. They act as constant reminders to ourselves that what we do affect others, and that we are not always right.

But over-thinking can also be bad.

You are a serious young person but don’t over-burden yourself unnecessarily. I believe that as long as you have a conscience and don’t actively go out and make use of people, it is already very good.

To grow an attachment to subjects is NORMAL and we will be wrong to try and dismiss that as a weakness.

If you can, and if you believe, convince yourself that your chosen choice of weapon – photojournalism – can make a difference to lives.

Should you continue keeping in touch with Mr Teo after this semester? Why not? If he calls you one day for help, should you listen and consider? Why not?

The nature of our profession also means we move on from one topic to another and at times, we can forget to keep in touch. Will our subjects blame us and dismiss us as users? Only if you deserved to be.

It is easy for you and your subjects to feel let down after an ‘intense’ relationship and that can be three days, three months or three years. It is not an unique photojournalism problem but great photojournalism needs good access. The more you get, the more you feel you owe.

How do you repay such kindness?

At the very least, do justice to the story; don’t make empty promises; respect people; communicate.

I doubt Mr Teo had any expectations from you. He was probably just happy that you found him to be worthy of attention. He might have felt valued for the few days that you were hovering over him.

Yes, you were just doing a school assignment. But, what you gave him could also be priceless. You will be making a mistake in assuming that he wanted something more in return. This, to him, might just be one of the most important events in his life. Don’t assume that he thinks lowly of you just because the story had to come to an end.

Do we seasoned professionals feel the same as you? Oh yes.

Saying goodbye is difficult for anyone with a heart.

Welcome to photojournalism.