Sharing Our Tears
October 25th, 2015 by David LaBelle
Tears flowed from this Russian woman’s eyes while visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. She spoke enough English to talk with me about her feelings, and was not offended that I had photographed her. Photo by David LaBelle

Tears flowed from this Russian woman’s eyes while visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. She spoke enough English to talk with me about her feelings, and was not offended that I had photographed her.
Photo by David LaBelle

What would our world be without tears?

Recently, when my wife dropped me off at the airport and we kissed goodbye, our eyes filled with tears. It struck me—more deeply than ever as I watched her drive away—how blessed I was to have someone care enough to cry when I left.

On the plane, I thought about that parting scene. I would not have been offended or felt our privacy intruded upon if someone had noticed our public, tearful separation and photographed our embrace. If anything, I would have felt honored. But then, that’s me—someone who believes in the power and beauty of capturing and sharing real, unrehearsed moments.

Not everyone sees the world or photography as I do. I realize photographing others candidly can be controversial.

With the advent of the Internet—which allows us to share images with lightning speed—documenting real life is even more challenging. Still, there is something beautiful in sharing our candid emotions.

I am not advocating crowding into a person’s personal space and shoving a lens in their face during painful, emotional times. Such behavior is insensitive and disrespectful. We should never want to cause greater pain or become a distraction or a spectacle during another’s grief. However, I do believe in quietly and respectfully documenting the emotions we exhibit publicly.

Photographing raw human emotion is not for the faint of heart. Shooting pictures of people crying—during times of joy or grief—requires sensitivity and a conviction that making pictures of others’ tears is moral and valuable. Knowing your intentions, your motives for photographing and feeling at peace with why you are photographing, is essential.

When I photograph emotional scenes, I try to move slowly, carefully and respectfully. I make eye contact, allowing others to read my heart and my intentions while inching closer. Sometimes I ask permission before or while photographing, but I do so with my eyes and never with my lips. Like animals in the wild, people will let me know if I get too close or if they want me to leave.

Often, there are individual and cultural differences to navigate. What is socially acceptable in one house or even one country may be considered offensive in another. It’s a mistake to assume others hold the same values or embrace the same liberties as you do. It is equally unwise to assume another human feels intruded upon if photographed showing emotion.

I believe tears are gifts from God and treasures to be celebrated. I need them to flush my pain, cleanse my soul and refresh my spirit. When I see pictures of my fellow brothers and sisters weeping, it cuts my heart and I feel a personal connection.

Unfortunately, in America we have been conditioned to believe we are to be photographed only when we win. It seems athletes and actors are taught early to hide from real, honest emotion when it doesn’t serve their image or brand.

Being able to cry with those who cry with or without a camera is a great gift. I cannot imagine a world without tears.

 

daveDavid LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He grew up on a frog farm in rural California, roaming the creeks and hills with his coon dogs. Many of the lessons he learned during those magical boyhood years have been applied to photography and teaching the essence of this art form. For more information, visit www.greatpicturehunt.com.