How well do you know yourself?

The following article is about the effect an unimportant event had on me.

Woman in red (3)

How well do you know yourself?

Woman in red (2)
How would you react if you saw someone in danger? Would you expect a photographer to react? There was an article in a national British newspaper earlier this year about photographers’ reactions when others are in danger. I remember thinking at the time that it must be difficult to know what you would do, or if you would be able to override your natural instincts, in those situations.

Recently, I was wandering around one of my favourite haunts when I noticed a woman in a red dress. She caught my eye because she was standing on the edge of a parapet, not behind the guard rail, a good distance above the lower wall. I thought she was probably going to jump, why else would she be there? The view is just as good from further back, there was no logical reason to be where she was, especially as the wind was getting up. So, there is someone, who you think is going to end it all, standing about a hundred and fifty meters away. What would you do? Me? I thought ‘she looks great there on the edge in that red dress’. Somewhere inside there was a voice urging me to shout or draw attention to her, but it was ignored. Maybe I wasn’t convinced of her intentions, I may have been unconsciously affected by her body language.
I was using a 50mm prime lens and at that distance there wasn’t much detail. Time to change to a 200mm zoom to get a bit closer, rather than do something useful. I couldn’t get much closer physically as I was standing on a balustrade which was not directly connected to where she was. I would have to circumnavigate the cathedral to get to her, a distance of about four hundred meters, and more importantly I would lose sight of my subject.
A few more shots with better detail, although my position wasn’t good. She wasn’t clear of the horizon so the figure didn’t stand out, and she was in the shadow of the temple whereas the background was well lit by the afternoon sun. At the same time I was thinking of the technical aspects, I was wondering about her. Who was she? What had happened to her? Was she really going to jump? In total I took eight shots and changed the lens. It had taken one minute eight seconds altogether. I put away the changed lens, zipped up my bag, looked up, and saw her boyfriend (I presume) helping her down. Both were acting perfectly normally, so I suppose she was enjoying the feeling of exhilaration, perhaps imagining she was flying above the city.

I was not the only one there that day, though nobody else seemed to be close to her (I don’t know where her companion sprang from). Had she jumped, would you blame me for taking photos instead of helping to save somebody? Could I have actually done anything? What about the others who literally do nothing when people are in danger? Don’t forget, by taking photos photographers are doing their job. They record things, later it’s the viewer who decides whether or not the result is macabre. Usually from the comfort of their home, when many photographers put themselves in danger to bring unpleasant things to the public’s attention: war, famine, drought, death.

Different people react to things in different ways, and the same individual will react to the same situation in different ways. It depends on many things: where they are, who they are with, how they feel, what they can see, etc. So, the next time you find an photographer being criticised, ask yourself if you would have helped or brought the viewfinder to your eye.