The class assignment was simple enough--to photograph their parents.
But it was the instructions that proved difficult. "You must look at them as human beings with feelings, not just as objects to point your camera at," said the teacher. "Think about your parents while you are photographing. Think about them as finite human beings, who have the same needs and emotions as you do . . . "
The result, says professional photographer and teacher Ralph Hattersley, was disastrous.
"Nearly half of my students were so shaken up that they entirely gave up in photography. So painful had been their experience that they couldn't stand to see a camera again."
Hattersley, 63, who now teaches figure photography at New York's New School for Social Research, has since abandoned the experiment because "the act of trying to strip away the illusion really floors them and gets them very discouraged with themselves."
"Photographing one's parents is an excellent idea, and millions of people do it every year without suffering a bit," says Hattersley, but that's because "they neither see nor think about what they're photographing."
Your "sense of values," or your "search for values," notes Hattersley, is "indelibly written" on the photograph you make.
When people try to take a picture of a relationship they want instead of the real one, the projection still will come through. For one student who tried to photograph sunlight into the dark relationship between an arthritic aunt and a cousin, the reality "always managed to defeat him by looking the way they really are."