We’d like to extend the notion of an online photographic community with another new column we’re calling “FotoForum.” For the first column, the topic is “On Fear and Photography,” and we’re featuring four photographers and their responses to our question below. We hope to add the column monthly, depending on the kind of response we get from all of you. And if you’d like to, please feel free to leave your response to this month’s question in the comment section at the end of this posting, along with a link to your website.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb
What’s frightened or disturbed or unsettled you in the past photographically, and how did you manage to resolve this so that it ended up changing your work in some way, perhaps even enriching it? For instance, this could be something about photographing in a culture very different from your own, or perhaps something a little closer to home, such as confronting a more personal fear or demon.
Three months after I’d been nearly beaten to death by a half dozen young men, a detective showed me some of the photographic evidence of my attack. In one of the photographs, I was lying shirtless on a hospital gurney, an oxygen mask strapped to my face, with blood oozing out of wounds all over my head. Though I remembered an old green Chevy Impala stopping and an angry man exploding towards me on the sidewalk (I was photographing for the Sacramento Bee newspaper at the time), after that first blow to my face, almost everything else was lost to me.
My attack had resulted in a severe head injury, and a cognitive fog had settled heavily over my world for three months. At Sierra Gates, a brain injury rehabilitation residence, slowly I had to learn how to walk again and, most frustrating, how to remember and make sense of my experiences. Amazingly though, because of the blank space in my memory, the extreme violence of my assault was an abstraction to me until I saw the detective’s photographs of my assault.
And that’s when the fear began to settle in. The angry man I’d remembered, a gang member, was being held for a murder he’d allegedly committed later that same week, but my other five or so assailants were walking free because the many witnesses to my attack were too terrified to talk to the police. Having been beaten severely for being a photographer, I was deeply afraid to photograph in public again.
Six months after my release from Sierra Gates, however, I decided to return there to photograph other people with brain injuries. Looking back, I think it was partly because I felt safe there, the first place I’d remembered with any clarity my new, brain injured life. It was like learning to be a photographer all over again.––John Trotter
The work of others intimidates me until I remember that I am not supposed to be taking their photographs––only my own.––John Masters