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Thursday Challenge Interviews...

Dennis Fox

Here is a favorite photo selected by Dennis..


Dennis said: I took the this photo January 1 in Ramallah, on the West Bank. I was looking to get lunch and stumbled across a large peaceful rally celebrating the 40th anniversary of the militant group Fatah. I like this for several reasons -- I didn't expect to see it, the boy with the guns has obvious dramatic interest, the covered faces seem ominous even knowing these are mostly children and teenagers in the Fatah youth group, and the shot is open to many different interpretations, from disgust at the indoctrination and use of children, to pessimism about what it means for future relations between Palestinians and Israelis, to satisfaction that resistance will continue until Palestinians believe justice is done.

What is a favorite place you have traveled to? Why?

I just returned from a month-long visit to Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. I went for a variety of personal and political reasons, but along the way I took more than 3000 photos. This small geographic area offers tremendous photographic opportunities -- people with very diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds living many different lifestyles, constant contrasts between modernism and traditionalism, incredible scenery from sea to desert to mountains, and people with intense emotions often in tense circumstances. Just going through my photos over the past week -- I posted galleries with some 600 photos on my website -- brings back my own constantly shifting emotions. So right now I'd say this is my favorite place to visit!

What got you interested in photography?

I had a camera when I was younger for a few years, but gave it up partly because I couldn't afford photography but more because I was moving around a lot and started thinking that having a camera interfered with experiencing the moment. The temptation to record something for artistic reasons, or to show someone else what excited you, or to remind yourself later about what you saw, can change the focus from enjoying the moment now. At least that's how it worked for me.

About 15 years ago, though, my wife bought me a basic Pentax K1000, and I got sucked right into it. I took a two-semester photography course and enjoyed the black-and-white film experience. I took a lot of photos, but photography was still too expensive for me to pursue in depth and I was also too busy with my academic job. Periodically I would get back to it, but I didn't progress very far.

A year and a half ago I finally bought my digital camera, a Canon PowerShot A70. That made it possible to do silly things like take 3000 photos in a month without having to pay for film development. And so I've begun to pick up where I left off, still very much an amateur but enjoying it immensely.

Tell us what you like to photograph most and why.

What interests me most is photographing intense public situations with some political relevance, ideally with something unexpected happening. This lets me apply my fascination with photography to my political and social commitments and to tell a story, which often parallels what I write. So I've taken many photos at political protests, for example, where demonstrators, police, observers, and journalists all provide enough agitation and emotion to make for interesting shots and, what I really like to get, interesting sequences. My trip to Israel/Palestine provided many such opportunities.

But I also photograph other things, from candid shots of people in urban settings to desert scenery to abstracts. I like shots through chain link fences, for some reason. I shoot mostly outdoors, partly because I've always found flash hard to work with given my limited experience and low-cost equipment, but also because I like to just wander around with the camera to see what's out there.

What are the challenges of this type of photography?

Three challenges come to mind:

Photographing street scenes creates tension between wanting to photograph strangers but not wanting to invade their privacy. I've come to think it's okay, at least in public places. But since I often take photos in tense situations, people I photograph sometimes don't appreciate it. In Israel, for example, a few times soldiers stopped me from taking their photos, though others in the same circumstances didn't mind. In Boston at last summer's protests at the Democratic National Convention, I got good shots of both protesters and a military policeman who didn't want their faces photographed. It was in Boston that I realized that my constant camera work made many of the protesters I was walking along with think I was either a cop or a journalist. This is an example of photography interfering with the moment. Marching while photographing made me less of a participant than I would have been without a camera. But I'm willing to do this at times. And it also had advantages -- having the camera and acting like I had a right to be there let me get places the cops were keeping protesters out of, even though I didn't have a press pass.

Another significant challenge is trying to compose shots quickly while circumstances change even more quickly. I'm inexpert at this, and many of my shots have a variety of problems -- crooked, distracting backgrounds, shaky, and so on. The advantage of a digital camera is that I can overshoot and hope one or two shots of some incident will work out even if the other dozen or so don't.

A third issue has more to do with what to do with the photos after taking them. If I were purely motivated by artistic concerns, I would spend more time processing photos and be much more selective about what I show others. But since my interests are also political and I want to illustrate events or issues, I'm somewhat less concerned with artistic merit than I am with telling a story and providing images that people concerned about an issue might find useful. Thus, although my photo blog highlights individual photos, my photo galleries present hundreds of shots on dozens of topics. This is probably overkill. (Both are accessible from http://photo.dennisfox.net, which also links to my main website and blog.)

What haven't you photographed that you would like to in the future?

I'd like to become brave enough to photograph riskier situations. And I'd like to photograph more gorgeously dramatic deserts and mountains. More important, though, I'd like to improve my skills in both composing shots and doing effective but still basic processing.


Dennis said: I took this photo last summer during protests at the Republican National Convention in New York. Police had just pushed peaceful demonstrators off the steps of the main library and were now finishing up arresting people. The cops in the photo were keeping everyone off 42nd Street when, from behind them, the man and girl wandered across the street, seemingly oblivious to the activity around them except perhaps for the man's grip on the girl's hand. The police just let them walk through their line. I like this because it seemed completely unexpected under the circumstances, my following the two with my camera got them reasonably in focus, and the out-of-focus cops provide a sense of activity, with one of them looking at, but not stopping, the walkers.

To see and read more visit Dennis Fox.

Note: All images are copyright the photographer.