I’ve spent a large part of my life behind a camera.
Admittedly, much of that time was imagined in my mind, as I was wanting to be shooting something or other on film. Realistically, I have spent a good bit of time (especially lately, getting back into the film and video business) using a camera for various projects.
Let me say: I’m not a fan of reality TV shows. If you can take them for what they are (entertainment), then you get what you get. I personally don’t enjoy them. Because I have spent time using a camera, I’m familiar with how people act around them.
You get one of two reactions:
1) The Ham. People go nuts – making faces, turning goofy, acting like they do in front of a mirror when no one else is watching. They’re looking to make people laugh.
2) The Deer-in-Headlights-Don’t-Film-Me. This is the more common of the two. People see that camera and the look of terror washes over their visage. They dart away, covering their face sometimes. It’s disturbing. Well, not really, but it’s uncomfortable.
To tie this back to reality shows… no one really acts in REALITY as they do in these shows. Because the people on the shows are aware of the camera, they will not act naturally. Most of these shows involve a large degree of “prodding” from the producers and directors to create more drama than would actually occur if no one was aware they were being filmed. True reality shows would have hidden cameras (and many lawsuits, I’m sure). They’d probably be boring most of the time, honestly.
Because most people I’ve seen in the presence of cameras tend toward the “scared” option, I want to explore that more. It seems as if the camera is a weapon to them. It’s a piece of equipment, but one that has the ability to show them in a way they fear. Not that this is the intention of the camera operator; quite the opposite: I don’t want to show them in a bad light, by any means. I just want the truth. This might be what some fear, though. To be fair, I believe the majority of the fear induced by the camera, is mostly self-consciousness. People don’t want to make a fool of themselves, they’re embarrassed, they don’t feel prepared, they feel as if they’ll be judged harshly by those who view the footage. It’s really an art form to make a person comfortable enough to appear on camera. Obviously, some people are more naturally drawn to be on camera and actually thrive in front of it. There is a degree of self-confidence that lies behind this type of person, someone who prefers an audience and might have some talent in this area. This is not typical, but it certainly exists.
For me, the best moments in front of a camera (and the ones that make me continue doing this type of work), are when people are neither of the two usual suspects described above. When people take off the mask, doing away with the hammy-ness and when they gain the confidence and trust with the camera operator… these are when you get to some moments that hit home as true. People open up, are emotionally honest, and bare their souls (to a degree). It’s not often this happens. It comes after some preparation or after going through countless “takes.” But when it happens, it’s pure gold. Seeing someone share from the heart – connecting to that person – is the essence of what you attempt to do when you wield a camera.
It may cause fear in you, it may cause you to run (and some people with cameras aren’t in the game to protect you… you probably should run from them), but what the majority of camera people are looking to do is to share the best of you with others. It’s a vulnerable place to be. As with writing, when you read a good book, you’re connecting with very private expressions of someone’s inner life. Someone is inviting you in and sharing themselves. It’s a blessed gift when someone will open the door to their heart and soul and offer something. With the degree of hurt and abuse in our world, so many are shut up in self-defense and won’t let anyone in. Everyone desires, at some level, to connect with others; it’s human nature to want community.
Whatever form it takes – music, literature, film, painting – art is an attempt to connect. It takes courage to connect. It takes risk to open yourself to others. It’s not easy. The rewards, however, when it’s done sincerely and with trust intact, are rich indeed.