Crónicas y Narraciones de Jaime San Martín

miércoles, septiembre 26, 2007

On Photojournalism, Life and Professions

Have been thinking about it lately. I’ve been wondering about life, on professions, passions, vocations. I have taken my reflexions a step further, towards my own inclinations, necessities and abilities; all of which I complemented with other people’s (positive or failed) experiences. So here I am now, stuck with the following (after 25 years on this planet, it is my only certain knowledge):

If you don’t dedicate your main efforts to what makes you feel at ease with yourself, you’ll most probably be constantly unhappy (and life’s too short, too fragile, to put all that burden onto it). In my personal case, I just realized that my natural disposition towards telling stories -to narrate what was going around me instead of being a part of it- could and should be my way of living. I am convinced that if every single human being dedicates most of its efforts to pursue his or her vocational call, the needs of the society as a whole would be fulfilled. Yet, there is a huge gap between doing the job you like and making a living out of it. Especially if you want to be a photojournalist in Chile.

My mother used to tell me that the brain is a person’s main enemy, and that most of the problems we think we face are merely a reflection of our pathetic personality. So every time I freaked out about my professional future, unsuccessfully trying to elaborate a coherent idea beyond the panic sensations, I humbly admitted my insufficiency and asked God for his guidance. The Creator is always communicating to and through us, as we are integral part of his Plan. The thing is that sometimes our ego is talking too loud and we cannot listen to His word. By admitting my incapacity to solve my own problems, you automatically shut up that annoying disturbance and amid the calm and silence that follow, God’s message will be easily recognisable.

In my professional life, God has spoken to me in those moments of tribulation mainly through two senses: sight and ear. In what relates to photography, I remember being completely pissed off with the way my colleagues and, in some way, my own self, were living things in the United States. I am talking about a time of my life when I was trying to do two fundamental things at the same time (something that is usually impossible to achieve): to finally become an independent adult and to take a giant leap forward in my professional career. There were some vital contradictions going on at that time, though I had (and still have) my own convictions clear. I was trying to become a mature figure while only having the energies to survive. In my classes at the Uni, I felt like if I had the moral stature to teach my classmates some life and professional lessons, only because I came from a different background and had slightly more professional and life experience than them. By doing so, disrespecting our parity, I think I lost some of their sympathy, only gained distance, which is never useful in such a tight working group as photojournalism. Even worse, my instructor must have thought what a smarty-pants this foreign guy believes he is, so ill just make him realize that he’s not as good as he thinks. I clearly felt that mood at the time and it added extra pressure on me, without earning anything substantial. There was a presentation due for a week about the life and work of a master of photojournalism; we had to make a selection. Pat, the professor, made the final call. So after submitting mine, he encouraged me to talk to the class about the only world renowned photographer from my country, Sergio Larrain. I had tons of different obligations at the time, so left all the research for the final day (and night) before the presentation. Totally collapsed, stressed and sleepless, I just remember closing my eyes and asking God’s help. With the sleeplessness, it’s somewhat easy to get rid of your thoughts and just facing the computer screen with nothing in your mind. What I saw were some moments of my own life in Chile, about my own fears and aesthetical approach towards my daily surroundings. Valparaiso and Santiago seemed so transparent to me. I comprehended that all the cliché images and postcards of my life there where very similar, if not to say influenced, by Larrain´s work. Even more, His essay themes deeply connected with my social apprehensions.

Contemporary masters of social documentary photography, such as Sebastiao Salgado, often receive all the credit, kudos, money and acclaim in a profession in which it’s easy to become incoherent when you assume all those praises. After meeting Larrain, maybe the first photojournalist to document the lives of those we consider as "poor", it was even clearer to me that it is impossible to have your consciousness clean at the end of the day when you know you are making a fortune by documenting the misfortunes of the ones who suffer.

While you read this, Sebastiao Salgado is living in his Paris residence; concerned, maybe, about attending an important meeting with some fundraisers or elaborating sophisticated and expensive trip plans to some remote area of the world. Meanwhile, Sergio Larrain spends the warm spring afternoons of the Limari Valley in Chile aside from the noise and worries of the modern world, retreated in his own personal haven.

One final observation to make: in the past few years, Salgado has devoted himself to photographic projects related to remote corners of the world, analysing its flora and fauna and. Larrain told me that after documenting the disgrace of the human race, it’s easier to concentrate in the wonders of this planet than to stay stuck with people’s negative influences. Maybe Salgado is in that stage right now.


  • Personal and therefore professional growth only stems from ONESELF.Answers too.ONESELF means ONE being in complete open attitude with the REST and the CREATOR ,thus forming the real complete ONESELF represented by the sacred number 3.- Loved to read your article , M

    By Anonymous Anónimo, at 10:47 a. m.  

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