Behind the Lens

I’ve never been shy to shove a camera in someone’s face. I was about 12 years old when camera phones started to get really popular, and I wasted no time in filling my contact list with pictures of all my friends in silly poses. In high school I would take my family’s camcorder and record my entire day – talking with friends and going to class, having friends mock me for bringing a camcorder everywhere and having my teachers take said camcorder away until the end of class. Long story short: cameras have become an extension of myself – the way a sword becomes an extension of a warrior or how basic human decency is an extension for everyone but Donald Trump.

But lately I’ve been thinking that it might actually be the other way around – that I’m actually an extension of the camera. Cameramen are taught to always look and work for the shot that can tell the story the best – the picture worth a thousand words. For our first story with VoiceBox Media, our team went to Southside Community Center in San Marcos to interview employees, volunteers and attendees of their free community dinner. These were people in need, but all with full hearts and friendly faces; these were images that I knew would captivate.

Two men stand in line for food at Southside Community Shelter. Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

Two men stand in line for food at Southside Community Shelter.
Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

The camera is cold and calculating. It lets in a certain amount of light for a good shot, and captures an instant in time and space. Throughout my afternoon capturing the sights and sounds of the shelter, I found myself relating to my camera. I was cold, calculating and opportunistic – thinking, for instance, of what would be the best white-balance to use on the chili bubbling in the back. I wondered if my footage of the tired, work-worn men waiting in line for dinner would look weird when I reviewed it because I had used a different shutter-speed than in previous shots. I wondered if I ruined my chance for a big emotional grab by filming fruit cups at the moment when the director had begun to cry, telling her own heart-wrenching tale of homelessness.

That was the moment I realized I was the least human person in the room. While my colleagues had been interviewing these people and connecting with them, I had been hiding behind my lens, truncated from the reality around me. I saw these human beings with lives and emotions like I would a beach-side sunset or one of my friends striking a silly pose for my contact-list. I saw them as a moment in time and space I should capture in a frame.

I think this is one of the real struggles, and assets, of a great photographer: the ability to meld man and machine in a less-apocalyptic Singularity.

When we visited PODER Learning Center to gather more interviews, I tried to be more of a human than a camera when we worked with children, which was admittedly easier to do if because children can be intoxicatingly fun to interact with. It definitely helped me break out of my shell a little bit and learn how to put the “man” in “cameraman.”

Gabriel Perez, 8, plays pool at PODER Learning Center on Thursday, June 25. PODER offers a myriad of activities to neighborhood kids.
Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

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