Work in Progress: DC


Mother & Child, H Street SE, Washington, DC  © Susana Raab 2009

So I’m starting this new project in my hometown and to make things more difficult for myself I am shooting it on 4×5 chrome.  It’s super fun and really frustrating, but it’s making me a better photographer, b/c when you shoot digital for 99% of your commissioned work, it’s easy to get lazy.  I just got an attachment to sync my qflash with the 4×5 so I’ll be able to open up the shadows better but I gotta always remember about blowing out those whites on chrome.  Why chrome? I love those blacks. I hate contact sheets. It’s hard. I like challenges. I’m stupid. I had five boxes of it in my freezer.

I saw this young mom walking down the street with her daughter and asked them to pose for me.  We spent about ten minutes together, and I could tell that she was a really good mom.  She was respectful but firm yet loving with her daughter.  I felt a lot of love towards them both.  I get strong feelings about people while I am photographing them, and I was feeling nothing but high-key being with them.  I can’t wait to send her some prints.

When I finished shooting some man walked up to me and said that he had heard me mention that someone was paying me a lot of money to shoot these people, and why was I putting her in such an ugly location.  I replied that he certainly had not heard me say the former because it simply wasn’t true,  – (the day I start making a lot of money selling prints is certainly the day I will share my good fortune with people like this mother & child ).  I also said that I thought the location was beautiful. He told me that I never would have put a white person in that location.  I was angry and frustrated.

It was right after the election – I lost my temper and said something about how I was sorry that racism was still alive in this country and you don’t have to be white to practice it.  I believe I also called him a jackass.  I was heartily ashamed of myself immediately afterwards.  But some dude walked out of my favorite fish-fry place outside of which this altercation had been taking place and said, “That’s right, Sis – you tell him.  Sometimes we all just got to tell ’em like it is.”  This made me feel a lot better, but I was still ashamed of losing my temper.  Especially because the experience of photographing them had been a real gift of sharing and I felt like I had just besmirched it.  I was wrong, and so was he.  And we all know about two wrongs.

I should also mention, that when I am shooting for a client it wouldn’t even be a question of responding, as I appreciate very much the fact that I am representing, so to speak, and take that quite seriously.  Yet there I was, very much on my own dime, trying to start a project about connections, being tested and failing.  It is a lesson learned.

I’d love to know what you all think. Was my choice of location indicative of racial typecasting?  For me it was there, where we were, and I love urban decay.


8 thoughts on “Work in Progress: DC

  1. I don’t think you were wrong in your choice of location. Photographers love urban decay and we find beauty where non-photographers will never see it. That’s a fact we have to live with. That’s how we see the world.

    It’s too bad that man took away your moment. Some people just have chips on their shoulders that will never be knocked off no matter how hard the wind blows.

    And I love the picture.


  2. it’s a strong image and it’s a perfect location… had the famous alec soth done the same photograph people would call it “brilliant,” don’t you think?

    but chrome? why do that to yourself? you must really trust your meter.

    good luck with your project; keep going!


  3. Before reading your text I saw the picture as pretty much a found moment and a found portrait. After reading your account of the post-picture incident I still see the image the same way. I am sorry you got hassled. Keep on the project, it’s a great idea.



  4. I’d say there was no typecasting, not even subconscious.

    Besides, why would you want a pretty postcard background? You can buy postcards at walmart!

    You should have offered to take a pic of the complainer, with his choice of background. That would have shut him up!


  5. Obviously late to this discussion but where else would you have photographed her? If you found a nondescript background you might as well have brought the mother and child to the studio. Environment is important. People are generally more comfortable in their own environment — that is part of what makes this a great photo. The question I have is how the mother and child reacted to the altercation, if they were still in the picture.


  6. Thanks for your input Karen. They had taken off by the time this exchange took place as he followed me down the block after this shoot. I just got an email from the mother and she was very supportive of the photograph.


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