Esteli, Nicaragua. ©Stephen Lewontin

Esteli, Nicaragua. ©Stephen Lewontin

From the Middle of Things

If I have one goal for my photographs, it is to be engaged: with the scene, with the larger context (social, personal, political), and, most important, with the human subjects. For me that means being as present as possible, both physically and emotionally. To achieve this,  I make almost all my photos from close up, with short focal length lenses: from the middle of things.

Working this way, one needs to negotiate a delicate boundary between presence and unwarranted intrusion.  To take an engaged photograph—as opposed to a voyeuristic one—requires compassion and respect. When this is not possible, a photo may not be worth taking. 

My first photographs date from the 1980s and 90s when I was working as a photojournalist in Latin America. At the time I worked with a couple of photo news agencies--Gamma (now absorbed into Getty Images) and Impact Visuals (now defunct)--but I wasn't much interested in the business of news. What I really wanted was to be where people were struggling to make their lives more just and humane, and to make some small contribution, if only as a witness. 

These days I choose more varied subjects and places, though I'm finding in my own country more and more of the authoritarianism of the old Latin American dictatorships. Democracy and social progress will only continue if we organize ourselves and push back. Lots of opportunities for engaged photography.