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Documentary Photography

Thomas McGovern, Professor of Art at CSUSB & Project Photographer for In|Digntiy

Photographing people is a challenge and simultaneously one of the greatest experiences for a documentary-style photographer, and the InDignity project was particularly so. I was able to read the subjects’ stories and form impressions, but those quickly faded when we met and their personalities began to emerge.

We each control a lot about how people perceive us – we choose our clothes, hair styles and make up – but our subtle facial expressions, body language and gestures suggest something unconscious and harder to control, and yet vital to our personalities. That’s what I look for when making a portrait. I am a humanist and uninterested in flattery, because I think humans are amazing and beautiful regardless of how they look, and I am in awe when looking through the camera. It’s a privilege to make pictures.

I confess to a bit of deception when photographing in that I chat with my subjects and ask innocuous questions for no reason other than to see how they express themselves. I doubt they are aware of how I am framing the fore, middle, and background of an image, or how I’m watching the light from the flash illuminate and reveal wrinkles, moles, eyelashes, and more. I think they are unique and special. When I’m very lucky, my pictures show that.