Fear is a nasty little feeling. On the one hand, it is entirely made up and exists only in our minds. On the other, it is an all too familiar emotion that casts a shadow on most of us on a daily basis. Some people are scared of dogs, others of heights. I am terrified of photographing people in public places.
It may seem a little oxymoronic and counter-intuitive, or even just flat out weird; a photographer that is scared of taking pictures. But such is the case for many photographers when it comes to interaction (or confrontation) with other humans. Put me in the middle of the woods and nothing scares me. In the middle of a crowded street however, I freeze. Standing only ten feet away from someone with a camera in my hands and I become utterly and absolutely unable to perform the simplest of tasks. My heart begins to palpitate, my palms sweat, my muscles stiffen to the point of temporary paralysis, and my brain triggers a flight response, screaming wildly at me to walk away and go get a coffee or catch a movie—anything that will get me away from a possible confrontation. Sometimes I persevere and manage to get a shot or two, but more times than not I chicken out.
The worst thing that can happen to a photographer is not getting the shot due to fear. I’ve run out of film on a shoot. I’ve missed some great opportunities because I had to reload film at the worst possible moment. I’ve even forgotten to check my camera to make sure it had a battery to power the light meter before I left home, leaving me to guess my exposure for a whole shoot. But despite experiencing all of these amateur and somewhat embarrassing mistakes, I’ve never felt worse than when I’ve chosen not to take a shot because I was too scared to raise the camera to my eye and release the shutter.
My fear, just like any other, is not rational. I realize this. What is the worst that can happen to me? Maybe someone will get upset if I take their picture. Maybe someone will even yell at me or threaten me, but they’re probably not going to hurt me physically. The most likely scenario is that they’ll just walk away. I am not a photojournalist in the middle of a battlefield or natural disaster, and yet I feel as though each move I make could find me stepping on a landmine.
Luckily there are already so many photographers floating around at festivals that most people expect to have their picture taken at some point. That is a definite perk of documenting a population in a state of celebration. People are usually at events to enjoy themselves, not to beat up on small female photographers.
This project not only forces me to face my fears head on, it also allows me the room to grow as a photographer. I am putting myself in places and situations that I would never be in otherwise, having new experiences and taking photographs that I never would have taken before. As terrifying as it is for me to photograph strangers, the idea of not getting a shot is much scarier. It’s not even a possibility. I used to think that fear was something to conquer, to overcome. I am learning instead to channel my fear, to realize that when my heart starts beating like a hummingbird’s wings it means that I’m on to something good.