A few weeks back I went out to Leamington County with Justice 4 Migrant Workers (@j4mw) to help in the kitchen preparing a Thank You meal for those migrant workers brave enough to come out and eat with their helpers.
Migrant workers are facing a crackdown right now due to legislation passed in April 2011 that stated they could only work here for four years, then they have to leave for four years. This is known as, the 4 and 4 Rule.
The meal was also an opportunity to inform the migrant workers of their rights and to let them know that there are people working hard to keep them here. It was mostly a way to thank them for their work, growing and harvesting the Ontario cucumbers, tomatoes, and other produce we eat everyday.
Some media were present, two filmmakers and a freelance photographer. The filmmakers had been filming for quite some time and had established relationships with many of the workers and gained their trust. The photographer though, came in, lenses blazing, wanting to just click away.
The problem with this cavalier attitude towards image capture, is that migrant workers are in a dangerously precarious position. They are tied to an employer, who often hold their passports. Any perceived political activity can have dire consequences for these workers. Therefore, Justice 4 Migrant Workers, while wanting to get the word out broadly and rally support for those who, due to circumstance, are unable to, are also diligent in managing workers’ comfort level and risk when it comes to having their faces out there.
I had brought my camera, since I had taken photos for J4MW before (see above). I chatted with the media folk about light levels in the room, different lenses and what kind of audio gear they had. So the photographer saw me as a comrade. I am not his comrade, I was there to support the workers. His brazen proclamation that he ‘shoots how he shoots’ when informed of the proper protocol, did not inspire warm feelings of comradery. By the end of the night though, he didn’t ‘shoot how he shoots,’ he was very respectful and took some amazing shots. He was also very grateful by the end.
I used my camera only when asked, during a portion of the meal when we took pictures of the workers’ messages to The Harper Government. Some wished to remain anonymous, some loved the opportunity. I would take their photo when they asked, then show them to see if they approved. One chap said to me, ‘my friend is shy, but I am not shy, I’m here to stand up for my rights.’ I almost burst out into song.
I have run into actual sneaky photographers before. While reporting for the radio I would often see these giant lenses stroll up to events, embed a series of annoying audible clicks into my otherwise pristine soundbite, take some names (while I’m interviewing someone), then take off. I would often be in their shots with my mic though, so the annoyance was mutual.
What I learned though was that sometimes, while lusting for the best shot, we forget about the potential impact of a photograph and that when we shoot people, we are borrowing their visage to incorporate into our composition. This needs to be an explicit, working relationship. Much of the difficulty of documentary style photography, photojournalism, is not the composition itself, but the establishing of a relationship with the subject. They are part of your art, so they need to be more than just their body, but an active participant and co creator in that art.
In radio it is impossible not to establish a relationship because you’re talking to someone and trying to peel away the pleasantries and get to the good stuff quickly. This requires a great deal of honesty about what you’re doing and who you are. This is not the case with photojournalism, if done poorly, you need not leave a lasting impact or establish good relationships.
¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!