On my recent trip to Rajasthan, Matt Brandon and Piet Van den Eynde carried the new Fuji Instax SP1 portable printers. This allowed them to print and share photos they made along the way, with the people who were kind enough to give up their time and pose for them. The image you see above is Matt sharing a portrait he had made with a gentleman in Alwar, Rajasthan.
Time and again I saw these great moments, where people smiled in recognition as a small photo, a simple gift, was given to them. It helped turn a sometimes awkward moment “can I take your photograph” into a more meaningful human exchange “here is something we made together.”
Matt has posted a thoughtful review article on his recent experience with the Instax SP1. It’s a good read if you want to understand the device and the process of transferring images to it for printing and sharing.
I almost bought one of these before the trip and I really regret not having done so. When we photograph people, especially in poorer countries, it is often such an asymmetrical situation. We are there with thousands of dollars worth of gear hanging off our necks, asking people who might not even have a photo of themselves, let alone a camera, to give up their time so we can photograph them.
The situation has made me ask myself, over and over again, who am I doing this for? How is my “craft” helping them? Vague ideals, like being a “humanitarian,” feel so far removed from the reality of being somewhere distant and strange, asking someone to pose for a picture which will help you advance your career, or photographic goals, but will give them nothing more than an odd, incomplete story to tell.
I now have a Fuji Instax SP1 in my camera bag and it will travel with me for the rest of the year. It sits well with my social concerns about photographing people in public (Stealth Photography And Other Urban Problems) and will probably lead me to add something to my Photographic Manifesto as well.
This simple little device, which might look like a toy to some, will surely help a lot of us make photography more social and kind. Allowing both the photographer and subject to leave their meeting with a photo to share and a story to tell can only be a good thing.