Like Laub, photographer
tries to send his subjects prints of the pictures he takes. Sometimes, he told Artsy
, his subjects end up viewing themselves in a new and revelatory way: a value in itself. Partin works with an 8x10 view camera, creating controlled portraits of both strangers and friends. “It’s mostly people that I see potential for some sort of transformative act happening, between me, them, and the camera,” he explained. “It’s a weird performative collaboration.”
Partin believes that photographers’ debt to their subjects is aesthetic. “Photographers owe their subjects a good picture,” he said. That gets tricky—“Everyone’s definition of a good picture is different,” he added. He advised that if you’re going to take someone’s picture, the final result should convey meaning, advance beyond the superficial, and perhaps even teach the photographer or potential audience something new about how the subject lives.
To achieve a surprising and new image, according to Partin, photographers may have to demand more from subjects. If they don’t, they’ll just waste their time and end up without a good picture. More time and effort—from both the photographer and the subject—results in better work. “The world doesn’t need another picture of someone staring back at a camera,” said Partin. “Try to go further with it and make something exciting, fresh, with some vitality. That’s what you owe your subject matter. You can’t put a price on that.”
Both Laub and Dubois offered their subjects long-standing connections, as well. Ten years after Laub first captured the residents of Mount Vernon, she keeps in touch with many of them. Dubois, who gave away hundreds of his images to the community, said that over the years, he’s seen them in his subjects’ photo albums and on their bedroom walls, preserved for posterity. “That’s the most basic way to give back,” he said. “If you commit to that community, your images become part of the history of a place.”