How I Define a Cultural Event
How do we define a cultural event? For me it can be something, whether you're traveling or trying to capture the flavor of a foreign culture, or even capturing an event in your own community. Remember, culture happens where you live. You have a culture of your own, so we don't always have to think that culture means you have to go outside of your family, your community, your country, so forth and so on. A cultural event is something that generally, it can be a rite of passage with your own family, or an experience in a foreign country. It's something when you're traveling you might not even realize it, but you could be documenting or be privy to some sort of a cultural event. Maybe if you're someplace and there's a festival. Again, it could be in America too, in your home country. You have to take these things into consideration, especially when you're working outside of your culture. It's really important to understand what are the cultural mores of those people, or of that place. How...
should you dress, how should you behave? If you're a man, how should you behave? If you're a woman, how should you behave? All these things come into play, and I don't mean to over-complicate it and make something that should be fun into a chore, but I'll tell you that if you can, again, that's what I love about doing this, is that I get to learn about these things. If I'm going someplace, and maybe I've never been there before, or heck, let's say you go to some festival in New Jersey where I live. Maybe some Italian festival, it's good to know what's the expectation, how are people behaving? How might they dress? What should I do, what shouldn't I do? So that when I'm there with my camera, I don't stand out like a jerk. I don't stand in the wrong place. I don't get in the way of anybody. Not only will my pictures be better, and be more insightful, but also I would guarantee you, you will have a better experience. The other thing I've learned, the more you know about the people and the places, and the cultures you photograph, they pick up on that, and the people appreciate that. Then generally, they open up to you and your camera more. In terms of, we'll talk about aesthetic considerations, but I want to play you, I think we're going to have a video here, right? This is the Sister Kate Dance Company. This was a couple of days ago, was one of the three situations we photographed in. This was an example of a portrait in a cultural event. I just was taken by this woman, that's the other thing, I'm always looking for characters especially when you're doing a portrait. I'm looking for a character, not only was she very beautiful, but there was just something very lovely about her tattoo, and just the whole, the whole feeling about her. That's the other thing, sometimes you might see someone and you might think, "God, I'd love to take a portrait of him or her." Then you need to think is that person going to be open to it, you know? It might be a really bad interaction because you picked someone who might be very closed, which means you have to be prepared to either pivot, or to find a way to make them comfortable. That happens a lot, where I'll go up to somebody and say, "Can I take your picture?" They're like, "No" or they're really, and then I have to make a split-second decision. Do I say, "Okay, thank you" and walk away, or try to somehow charm them because I feel like I have to get a picture of them, because they're so compelling? I was capturing the moments of them stretching and practicing, this was the rehearsal. There was just something so beautiful about being around, I had a contact high from this, because these women were having so much fun that it took me outside of myself, and it sort of transported me to this other place. Again, I'm going to repeat this so much, and tell me if you get sick of hearing it, but it's one of the many things I love about photography. It really can transport you if you allow it to happen. Their pure joy of moving and dancing, and the sisterhood of being together, it inspired me to try to make pictures. Sometimes I'm capturing quiet moments, sometimes energetic moments, I'm looking for compositions. In this case they were just packing up the feathers and moving on to another routine. I just saw this moment with the reflections in the mirrors, and just got that. I'll share with you now some pictures from previous work, again with my phone, of cultural events. This was photographed a few years ago in Coney Island. The Polar Bear Club, so this is the annual New Year's Day dip in the ocean. I did not go in, all right. (audience laughs) Yes, I am a wimp, no. Anyway, this is again, an example of something that's in my own culture, but I'd never experienced before. Similar to the Sister Kate dance group, it was so great to be around all these people that were lunatics, in crazy cold weather. It was definitely freezing weather that winter, unlike this winter, but they were having so much fun. This was a county fair in upstate New York. Everywhere in America there are county fairs. What a wonderful way to not only have fun, even if you don't have kids, but certainly if you have kids, and to sort of get a sense of what is the local culture? What are the local things? This was also at another fair in Aspen, Colorado. I'm always looking for compositions and angles and moments, these are the things that in a way, sort of fuel my aesthetic considerations, if you like. Light, composition, the moment, human interaction. This was at a rodeo in Colorado, capturing action. This is in Nigeria in a church. The Nigerian churches are so boisterous and so full of music and incredible energy. Again, without the camera I don't know. Sometimes I think about that, what would my experience have been like in a place if I didn't go with a camera? Well, first of all, in some cases it might have have been more positive, because with the camera, people then question you as opposed to if you're just without a camera. But on the other hand, because I've got the camera more times than not, I get in deeper, and I see things that other people wouldn't see. This is also in Nigeria, this is at a mass wedding for a Muslim community. This situation, I never would have gone into this situation if I wasn't working as a photographer. But I got to see the incredibly beautiful scene, and the beauty of the people, and how gentle everyone was. This is in the palace of the Emir of Kano, this is in northern Nigeria, again there is no way I would have gotten into this if I didn't have a camera. There are these extraordinary things that we get to see and we get to experience.