We all have a story about the photograph that got away. A photo that would have been incredible if only…
Photographs Not Taken is a collection of short essays written by photographers about the photos they didn’t make. It’s a rare book about photography that doesn’t contain a single photo!
Instead it shares powerful stories about a situation all photographers face. The book itself is quick to read, and each essay is only a page or two long, so it was easy to pick it up for a few minutes a day (and get a big dose of inspiration!). It’s definitely a book that would benefit any sort of photographer!
Reasons Why A Photograph Is Not Taken
While each story is unique, I noticed several common reasons why a photographer didn’t take a photo:
In situations like war, 9/11, or accidents where the photographer is psychologically overwhelmed, photographs often don’t get taken. An interesting aspect of situations like this is that photographers don’t seem to regret not having taken a photo. I got the feeling that they were in situations that, on some level, they felt should not be recorded. This was especially true when an event happened so quickly that they didn’t have time to mentally prepare for what they saw.
The Moment Was Limited To A Personal Experience
Sometimes it’s that the situation happened too fast for the photographer to capture. Other times the moment occurred before the photographer was a photographer. Or they might not have had a camera on them. Childhood memories were mentioned, but also more recent memories and even dreams. Stories like this seem rooted in nostalgia about photos they wish they had, but for one reason or another were impossible to make.
The Need To Experience The Present
As opposed to the above situation, where creating the photo would have been impossible, another type of story that popped up repeatedly was the need to actually experience events instead of photograph them. This was especially true of parents.
Respect For The Subject
Many photographers faced a situation where they didn’t take the photo out of respect for the subject. The photographers often mentioned the vulnerability of the subject, and how taking a photo could be taking advantage of them in some way.
Sometimes the photographer simply wasn’t allowed to take the photo they wanted, usually because they were working in a foreign land or under supervision. One of my favourite quotes in the book that eloquently sums things up comes from Peter Reisett:
Perhaps some images are meant only for the mind and the heart.
Our Photograph Not Taken
In 2008 Lauren and I spent two months traveling across India. It felt like a complete lifetime, filled with so many unbelievable experiences. One of the places we visited was the city of Varanasi. It’s located on the banks of the Ganges river. This river is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, but also one of the most sacred.
With our cameras in hand, we walked down to the riverfront to witness all the action that took place there. Life happens on those river banks in every possible manner. But the one event that we were completely unprepared for was the way death happened.
Along the Ganges there are funeral pyres, where bodies are burned in the open air, and the remains sent to drift along the holy river. These funerals happen every day, at a constant pace, to the point where massive stacks of wood are piled up to accommodate them all. As we came across one of the pyres, we found ourselves frozen in disbelief. We were being faced with something that was completely outside of our norms.
I can clearly remember where we stood, and what we saw, but at no point did we lift up our cameras to capture it. It was too much for us to process as viewers, let alone as photographers. Later that evening we took some time to try to put into words what we had felt at that moment. We couldn’t. Four years later, we still can’t. Intense. Overwhelming. Powerful. Those may come close, but still hardly encapsulate the full experience.
And we have no photos of it. But I don’t think we’ll ever forget it.
A Book Worth Reading
The experiences shared in this book offer insights that every photographer will find inspirational. I really enjoyed the opportunity to read the words of these photographers and have them describe such a personal event, instead of just viewing their photos. If you’re interested you can find the paperback on Amazon or if you prefer it’s available on Kindle as well.
We would love to hear your experience with a photograph not taken! It’s a personal topic, but we would feel privileged to read your story. Feel free to share it in the comments below!