When All Else Is Equal, It's All About Access

Photographers should be prying open doors rather than settling for the same images as everyone else.

There are too many "iconic" images on repeat. Apart from the cliches and Instagram trends, photographers and non-photographers alike sometimes fall into the trap of wanting to capture the same images as someone they admire. Or there's some hot tourist spot that has a killer look and feel to it. But this isn't the way to go about it. Not if as a photographer one cares about contributing something that is on par with regurgitated baby bird pulp.

A perfect example of this is the famous walkway at Fushimi Inari Taisha in Japan. I'm not even going to picture it here because I'm so sick of seeing it. Why? Because everyone and their grandmother's dog have access to the place and take pictures there. It's fine for tourists. Tourists take pictures of anything and everything. Photographers should be more mindful and save their tourist snaps for their personal profiles while managing their professional shots on different platforms.

It's all about access

Access is the one true attribute which may separate one photographer from millions. It's not necessarily about discovering a spot that few photographers know about. It could be about actually going to places where other photographers refuse to shoot. It could be about trekking through regions in one country which simply don't exist in many others, like the Dhakuria Railway Colony, featured in this blog.

For instance, in many countries like the US, it could be considered trespassing to be on the railroad tracks in some places. And photographing trains close up could get yourself in trouble. Besides being stupidly dangerous, taking pictures of people on active railroad tracks has resulted in several high profile deaths in recent years due to photographers and their subjects being careless. But in places like the railway colony that I've been visiting for years in Kolkata, people's homes are mere inches from active railroad tracks. They sit right next to them, tending to their chores and trains rush by like cyclonic bulls tearing through red capes.

For me, this is access. I photograph this place because, for one reason of several, I think it should not exist. Documenting it will hopefully serve as some kind of warning bell or cry for help. Another reason is because I don't see many pictures being taken here, for obvious reasons. It's filthy. It's dangerous. And it's not really a romantic spot for photographers to be. But I have access to it. I go there, I take pictures, interact with the residents, and dodge trains whenever prudent.

The Dhakuria Railway Colony is but one example in countless millions which possibly exist around the globe. Photographers should be sniffing these places out as part of a working strategy to acquire unique shots.

There's another way to think of access. Access requires people skills, may require discomfort, dogged patience, at the very least, will require asking someone for permission to go where the general public isn't allowed.

Think of the photographer who gets to photograph celebrities at their homes or in five star hotel suites. Sure, they may be photojournalists. But I'm sure even in that field having access to high profile stories and being able to tag along to photograph a celebrity may have required a little luck or a bit of pushing on said photographer's part. Point is, doors to access usually can't be simply opened by turning the knob: they have to be kicked the hell open.

Access is two-pronged. It's about discovering a locale no one knows about or a vast majority refuse to shoot. Or it could be about gaining permission. It could be both of these things.

Another example of access is photographers who will be allowed on site to photograph the upcoming Olympics. None of us have that kind of access! That's what photographers should be striving for, the ultimate backstage pass to exclusive photographic opportunities.

More on this subject at a later date. And yes, I've got a few backstage passes of my own in my pocket for 2020.

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