A man works on crossword puzzles during a hot metro ride, Washington, DC, August, 2016. With the choices we make, we photographers can decide how our subjects are seen. We hide behind “high truth values,” but as Garry Winogrand or Joel Meyerowitz would attest, we are actually incapable of capturing truth. We shoot not what a thing is, but how it looked to our camera. I can shoot the scene with balanced contrast (photo 1) and show what I saw, a man concentrating on a crossword on a train with no A/C. Or I can darken the contrast, hide his eyes (photo 2) and make him seem ominous, perhaps unstable. Or, I can add shots of his wiping his brow (bottom 2) and let you discern the scene for yourself.
A single shot does not create a narrative; it only shows an instant in time. Whether that is truth depends on many factors, the most important of which is how truthful, how respectful we choose to be to our subject. What you cannot see in these photos is that I looked much like him, hot, tired, full of concentrated energy for one of my favorite pastimes. The camera doesn’t judge, but we must be careful to ensure we do not either.