Dec 222014

Photographer at Large

Michelle Leung

Fear about Others

Art & Fear


Belgian Pavillion at Biennale, Venice:Italy Art & Fear © Michelle Leung

Belgian Pavillion at Biennale, Venice:Italy Art & Fear © Michelle Leung

Fear about Others

Starting in the 1980s my first photographs of people were taken from such a distance the subjects were indiscernible from ants…small ants! In recent years I’ve been encouraged to get close, and have been told that I can’t get close enough to my subject. You’re kidding me right?!? Get so close to the subject that they might identify me as a photographer? That’s crazy talk.

Progressively my initial level of discomfort about my close proximity to a photographic subject has eased. The imagined consequence of a subject suddenly identifying me as a photographer hasn’t turned out as horrific as I first expected. Some days I photograph people as symbolic forms rather than as an individual with a personality. Some days I work with shadows, or reflections. Some days I get close. It doesn’t hurt…much.

French Pavillion.  Biennale, Venice:Italy, Art & Fear © Michelle Leung

French Pavillion. Biennale, Venice:Italy, Art & Fear © Michelle Leung

The fear about others extends to critiques of my work. Sharing my personal thoughts as expressed through my photography does not come naturally to me. During my first critique, my heart was pounding audibly, my palms were sweating profusely and the fragility in my knees was akin to the aftermath of a high intensity spin class. There was nothing at all frightening about the critiquer, but when someone is about to pass judgment on something that is so personal, the natural tendency is to view this process as an assessment of my personal qualities - whether I am a good person or bad. To me, it wasn’t just about my photography.

French Pavillion II, Biennale, Venice:Italy Art & Fear © Michelle Leung

French Pavillion II, Biennale, Venice:Italy Art & Fear © Michelle Leung

But it turns out that the critique of others comes from a position of care and concern for my development. The feedback actually helps improve the results. Being able to understand and accept well founded feedback has deepened my understanding of the craft. Who would have imagined back then that such a physiological calamity could be so constructive?! The gradual progress in this regard has ensured that now a piece of me doesn’t want to die when others care enough to provide feedback. The best outcome is that I learn more about my work and as I do, I learn a little more about my vision.

“…what we really gain from the art-making of others is’courage-by-association’. Depth of contact grows as fears are shared — and thereby disarmed — and this comes from embracing art as process, and artists as kindred spirits.” - Bayles and Orland, ‘Art & Fear’.

–Michelle Leung



  2 Responses to “Photographer at Large: Fear about Others”

  1. Hi Michelle:

    I know of what you write – photographing subjects from a distance – not so much from fear but more from a reluctance to impose myself upon the subject that I am photographing. Like you as well, the encouragement from Adam to become more engaged with the subject has led to much more powerful images. Where once i was reluctant to approach a subject, I now find every time I make the effort to become engaged with the subject, it gets easier and easier to the point where even in countries where my ability to communicate is limited I make the effort.


  2. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the comment…you guys are both what I would describe as laid back, respectful, and curious people who have both juggled how to shoot closer without imposing yourselves. Well done. It does not have to be a “jump in your face approach.” The Gentleman or Gentlewoman approach will be longer lasting and always welcome.


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