Of course, this photo is not of me. You will have recognized one of the most famous photos of Joel Meyerowitz which was taken in Paris in 1967. This photo has a very particular echo at me because I took a photo recently during my stay in Mauritius which poses me the issue of censorship. You can find below a short video made by Polka magazine where Joel Meyerowitz talks about this photo.
We started this discussion with John Harper by email. I had shown him the photo asking for his opinion on the thing. I was not very comfortable sharing the photo I had taken. Let me explain what it is. Last Friday, we were on an excursion with the children to Ile aux Cerfs, a very (too) touristy place in Mauritius. A truly sublime place, but one that has lost its soul with far too many people. I was taking pictures of my children when I saw in the distance people who carried a person like one carries an animal, ie by the legs. In this case, it was by holding her by the legs and arms. This scene seemed strange. At the time, I told myself that these people were carrying their friend in this way for fun.
But paying more attention, I noted that it was not young people but rather fifties … These old people have stupid games … But there was something wrong. The head of the person they were carrying tended to dip in the water. It was then that I realized that, in fact, they were carrying a woman who must have been unwell. At that moment, one of the men who was carrying her shouted for help ! I quickly got rid of my camera and asked my wife to come and collect it from the sand and I ran to go and help them. It was then that I understood why they were carrying her that way. It was impossible to transport her otherwise. Because of the sunscreen, it was the only way.
I also quickly noticed that she was unconscious and that foam was coming out of her mouth. I told myself that this woman must have been unwell and was drowning when the others went to save her. I still didn’t know if she was still breathing. Once on the sand we put her on the ground and I immediately took the initiative to put her in the lateral safety position. Instantly water came out of her mouth and still this foam. I paid attention to see movements that would show me that she was breathing. Which was the case. Lots of people came to see what was going on.
When I was younger, I received first aid training. With a calm head, I told myself that there are many things that I should have done differently. I did not take much precaution (in terms of handling the head) to put it in the lateral safety position. It was also necessary to clear the nose and mouth better so that she could breathe more easily. It would also have been necessary to make space around this woman on the ground so that she had more air. There was a lot of stress and we don’t necessarily take the best decisions.
Then I heard someone say he was a doctor (he was a tourist like me) and he started to take the woman’s pulse. The woman was still unconscious and rescue units still did not arrive. Besides, there was an infinite time before the Mauritian Life Guard arrived … It seems to me that Mauritius is not the best destination to have a medical problem … For such a touristy place, I’m quite surprised at how long it took for rescue units to arrive.
The situation seemed to be under control or at least I was no longer useful. A doctor (in swim short) was at the lady’s bedside. It was at this moment that I felt the need to take my camera back to capture this moment. Why this gesture ? I can be described as an unscrupulous opportunist voyeur who took advantage of the situation to take a good photo. Yes you can tax me for that, but I did not make this photo for that. It was to avoid this controversy that I had this dilemma : should I share this photo ?
That’s why I asked John’s advice on it. It was he who suggested to me that the beginning of an answer lay in this photo of Joel Meyerowitz. In his book published two years ago (Where I Find Myself), the short text gives some explanations on the photo. In no case do I compare my photo with that of Meyerowitz. But the reflection on the fact of having taken the photo is the same. Am I right to take this photo ? Should I have censored myself?
I have often heard people said: “Ask yourself the question of whether it would bother you to be photographed in this way. If the answer is yes, this is where your limit lies”. I don’t agree with that at all. I do not use this criterion to know if I should take a photo. When I am on the street, I am a witness to the life that unfolds on front of me. By taking this photo there was no search for sensationalism. I just witnessed what was happening in front of me. I photograph life and the present. When I took this photo, I didn’t think much. I had to take this photo. As is often the case in the street, I click first then I think later.
Does that mean I will photograph anything ? A dead person on the ground ? A horrible accident ? I do not know. The moment dictates my attitude. I hesitated a long time before sharing this photo but in the end I expose myself by showing it. I expose myself to the many criticisms that will fall on me. I’m ready to discuss it.
This photo was made with the Ricoh GR.