Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Still Life This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
Every person I have ever photographed has had their own vision of what a portrait should be. When they come to have their portrait taken, they expect me to say, “Stand up straight” and “Tuck in your shirt.” It would be considered unprofessional if I didn’t tell them to tilt their head one degree or to shift their hands by half an inch. People expect that; they want to be told what to do and how to act. They want me to show them how to be perfect.

I remember the portraits my family would take every year. My father, a professional photographer, would drape his studio in black fabric that blocked the outside light, the streets below, and the world. He would set up soft white reflectors and bright lights to drive the shadows from our faces, taking away our depth, our imperfections, our character.

My brother and I would stand like soldiers at attention, our shoulders touching, knees locked. He would pinch me and step on my toes until I demanded he stopped. My mother would hover, whispering to hush. My dad would stand back and look at us, making little measurements, calculating how much to move each of us. We wouldn’t dare move a muscle. The shutter would click and the camera with its monstrous black hood would capture us on celluloid. We would take the portrait once, twice, 40 times until it met my father’s standards. His insistence on perfection was legendary. It was what drove me away from photography.

When I finally found my way to a camera, it was by sheer coincidence. I was searching through a closet and found my dad’s first camera, a Nikon F2 35mm from the 1960s. I wandered out onto the streets of Manhattan, overflowing with passersby, and realized why I had never sought out the camera before. The only type of photography I knew was to force people to stand in stuffy rooms while they pretended to be happy. That wasn’t photography.

Camera in hand, I captured the graying, wrinkled men in the park enjoying one last happiness: chess matches played with the strategy of army generals. I unloaded frame after frame of a bespectacled college student begging for bus money to make his way home. People walked by, consumed by their life, unaware of the kid capturing the most sincere moments they will never recognize.

I still have those negatives. The film is grainy, overexposed, anything but perfect. Nowadays, I can unload a hundred rolls and every single one is perfectly exposed, without a scratch or mark. They’ll never be as meaningful as those first frames that opened my eyes to the world that I was letting pass me by. That black and white film has come to represent me, imperfectly perfect.

Photography is about capturing a moment as honestly as possible. My photos are portraits of imperfection. “Tell me your story,” I say to my subjects. I want to hear their pain, their happiness. They get so caught up in telling me what has changed them, what has inspired them, they don’t even notice the camera. If people don’t know they are being photographed, they are vulnerable. Their flaws are on display, and they are so much more beautiful for it.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




Join the Discussion

This article has 16 comments. Post your own now!

KatsK This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm
This is really good. I love that last sentence. It is funny how people are so focused on perfection, being convinced that it's the only way. Most people don't care about capturing happiness, but you do. 
 
siglo15 said...
Jun. 8, 2012 at 8:16 am
I agree. People need to stop trying to be what they think is more than what they are because in reality it turns out to be less.
 
FreedomIsMyVirtue said...
Apr. 13, 2012 at 12:18 am
I agree with you and I like your story. I really do. It was so true and so greatly written.
 
Im2Chey said...
Jun. 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm
That was amazing! It really inspired me with a new perspective. Photography is what I love to. But sometimes the pressure of perfection is overwhelming. Photography should be raw, the art, the essence. Thanks:)
 
myworld10 said...
Jun. 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm
Loved the story! I agree with you on what you think the meaning of photography is: capturing the moment in a most true way. I am thinking of becoming a photographer when i'm grown up. Thank you for sharing this story with us readers!! Keep up the good writing.
 
HopelessSharpie said...
Apr. 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm
You've inspired me more than a million photography books even could. Great job. 
 
Niki R. said...
Mar. 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm
I loved this!  Absolutely right as far as what photography really is. Great writing style and I can definitely relate :)
 
little-miss-sunshine said...
Mar. 27, 2010 at 11:06 am
I love this piece, and totally relate to photography being real life. Amazing!<3
 
Elisabet H. said...
Mar. 5, 2010 at 12:19 am
Beautiful! The moments leading up to the ending are nice, and the ending matches those moments perfectly.
 
butterflygirl said...
Feb. 11, 2010 at 7:08 pm
Excellent. I love the way your emotions were expressed. Awesome story. Very captivating!
 
brain in act said...
Dec. 7, 2009 at 9:37 am
This piece has greatness in it. i seldom do any commenting but, here i am. WHooooooah. You rock.
 
ewlemons41 said...
Aug. 26, 2009 at 6:28 pm
excellent work! the transition from negative to positive was perfect.
 
amanda. said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 12:14 am
you made me freaking cry =\
 
Carnival-Desire said...
Oct. 16, 2008 at 3:17 am
I simply loved your essay and trust me, I've read a lot of college papers before. How you described the finding of your passion for photography was brilliant on showing your admiring concepts and still focusing on your topic. The piece revealed depth to you as an individual I think. It's inspired me to write better papers in the future. " <3 "
 
lorma said...
Oct. 10, 2008 at 4:01 pm
Loved it! You don't boast about your talent directly and you focus only on photography. But the way in which you write about the way you feel about photography reflects so much on the depth of who you are and how much you could contribute to a college's environment, that a college is sure to be impressed.
 
Grimer11 said...
Aug. 12, 2008 at 5:15 am
This is incredible. Well done.
 
Site Feedback