Distance? What Distance?

It has been said that photographing things means distancing oneself. Among others, Susan Sontag seems to establish a close connection between photography and estrangement. Consider western travellers: They put the camera between themselves and the places they visit, so they would not be exposed to new impressions directly. And it gives them something to do. Instead of opening up to new experiences they fall back on a well-known routine. Or so Sontag says (On Photography).

Travelling … “If only I could travel to exciting places, I could make exciting pictures,” many amateur photographers complain. I do not buy that.

Quite on the contrary, I love visiting and revisiting certain spots in and around my home town (as well as going on the same  journey more than once) because I feel I can get more and more familiar with the places’ potential for pictures.

Getting to know certain places like that may well be what Robert Capa had in mind when he declared: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Getting closer lets you discover nuances the hurrying eye would probably miss. In a way, it means finding the new, the exciting in your immediate environment. When I photograph, I literally step towards the object. Rather than replace that 50 mm lens with a 135, I would walk. And I may even make several pictures while I approach the object. More often than not, this very spatial movement gives me a feeling of closeness.

Thus, even if I do not approach an object in order to gain ‘hard’, intellectual insight (as I wrote in Aesthetic Investigation), I feel quite the opposite of what Susan Sontag describes.