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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Three: Expressing human values > Siberian elders, Chukchi Peninsula, Russia, 2002
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Siberian elders, Chukchi Peninsula, Russia, 2002

Siberian elders, Chukchi Peninsula, Russia, 2002

The great French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson tells us that "wrinkles are a mark of life. After awhile, everyone gets the face they deserve." In this shot of three village elders in a remote Siberian fishing village, I follow his advice by moving in with a telephoto lens to study the emotions on three human faces. The woman at right was agitated, and several times the fellow at center had to calm her down. Apparently she wanted to say something to us, but was unable to make herself understood. Frustration, resignation, curiosity are among the human values expressed by the people in this photograph.

Canon PowerShot G2
1/640s f/6.3 at 21.0mm full exif

other sizes: small medium large original
Phil Douglis24-May-2006 22:41
Light reveals detail, and the frame creates pressure. I am trying to express feelings here, and the detail carries the emotion, while the close up framing adds context for that emotion: the struggle to overcome the language barrier.
Jack McSorley24-May-2006 22:30
Like the lighting and framing of these portraits!!
ramma 04-Sep-2005 09:34
simply superb !!
Phil Douglis26-Mar-2005 05:52
Thanks, Benchang for this comment. It is always amazing to me how different people see different emotions reflecting different human values in this shot. I saw expressions of frustration and resignation here more than anything else, yet you read their reactions as embarrassment. All are indeed human values, and they are what define the meaning in this photograph. Just as the human values in the shot you mention of the tired Ecuadorian fisherman at did.
Benchang Tang 25-Mar-2005 14:40
I like the picture with the fisherman taking a rest on his boat very mush, first because that upon my first look to it I can sense the comfort of the man and that also bounces back to me, the viewer. But I don't have that kind of feeling with this one. To me they look a little embarassed, although that is a type of human values. Thanks.
Phil Douglis27-Feb-2005 05:23
Thanks, Bob. I have no regrets. Photography is all about sharing. Otherwise, why bother? As for the comments, that is why I post these pictures. To share ideas about what my pictures express, and why. And most important, to give other photographers food for thought, ideas, and inspiration. Thanks for your comment, Bob.
Bob Fairbanks 21-Feb-2005 01:47
Phil, you took another marvelous picture which has certainly elicited many comments. Those faces do strike the viewer in certain ways, and we all certainly differ in our feelings. After reading all those comments and your thoughtful comments about the comments, I wonder if you're still happy you shared the photo! Life must go on.
Phil Douglis11-Jan-2005 21:41
Yes, Mikel, Henri is a bit hard on old folks, isn't he? I agree with you -- wrinkles are a mark of character. You have analyzed the characters of these people very well -- and that really was the purpose of my photograph -- to reveal the character and express human values in doing so. Yes, this image is essentially about the human values of frustration, resignation and curiosity. But you see other values expressed here as well: confusion, deception, nervousness, unpleasantness, tranquility, even kindness and perhaps compassion. It shows me that my image has worked quite effectively for you in terms of expression. Thanks, Mikel, for these observations.
Xabier Mikel Laburu Van Woudenberg11-Jan-2005 21:09
Nice and powerfull picture. I in certain extend agree with Bresson though I rather prefere to say that the face marks the life and the carecter you have, not only wat they 'deserve'. In any case, their faces markt by hardshift is a map were you can see most of their life but too the moment emotions. As you well say, the women in the front looks like kind of decieved, probably confused and nervious it seems quite clear that she is trying to express something to you but doesen't know how to express her self. On the other hand, of the three subjects I wold say that if we think of Bressons frase, she is the most umpleasent figure of all, she has a very strong features that denote a hard carecter probably a person that is not usually very smily. Her companion behind him instead is a bit different, though he has a strong face, he seems a lot more of a tranquile person in general, and I like the look of kindness in his face while he is trying to calm down the first woman. For ending, the last women, also has very strong features but she seems a bit more easygoing then the first one, she seems curious about what is happening to her and even seems to get with ease or even pride.
Phil Douglis04-Dec-2004 04:15
Thanks, Clara for your lavish praise on this one. It is certainly a cultural study, but it also expresses the various human values i've noted in my caption. Color his important here, because color plays such a role in the identity of each person. The expressions, as you say, are profound. They are what really communicate the human values here.
Guest 03-Dec-2004 21:28
It is a wonderful layered composition. I vote 10 for this picture. Love the colors too. The expressions are to fill a book. A superb study photo of the Cultures category, I'd say.
Phil Douglis20-Nov-2004 22:44
Thanks, Nut, for another one of your brain spinning comments. I don't always have a purpose fully in mind before I make my photos. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Many times, I shoot on instinct only, and the meaning only becomes clear when I study the picture afterwards.

How can you learn to understand what you call "human characteristics and body movement?" It's a matter of experience, Nut. You must train your eye to become an observer of human behavior, human response, and human gesture. And then you must be able to visually translate those behaviors, responses, and gestures into human values -- the attitudes, concerns, and beliefs that all of us share as human beings.

You always manage to get down to the heart of the matter, Nut. "Understanding" involves experience, practice, and study. You have to work hard to gain understanding. Picturing human behavior to express those human values that bond us together as people, is what separates separates visual communicators from visual illustrators. A good communicator can tell a story by expressively interpreting the behavior of people. An illustrator will only show us what these people "look like."

Hope this helps, Nut.
nut 20-Nov-2004 22:10
I knew why. But my question is nothing about this photo. It's about the algorithm to process
an express photography into this gallery. I feel like you always has your purpose in your mind
before take any photography.

From here, I can see the frustration, resignation and curiosity. It's not easy to understand the
human characteristics and bodily movement. This is hard to understand, if we won't understand it how can we express it.
Phil Douglis20-Nov-2004 21:12
Nut, as I said in my explanation, this image conveys three very basic human values. This woman is frustrated because she can't sell her goods to us. Frustration is a common human value -- it's something that all of us have felt at one time, haven't we? The man sitting behind her is resigned to the situation. He seems to understand that they are not going to sell very much to the tourists who are looking at their goods. I can see resignation written on his face. And resignation is a common human value, too. We have all just given up at times, haven't we? And finally, the lady in the back seems to look at all of this with curiosity. She is an observer, not a participant in the sale, and is wondering more about the tourists she sees. And curiosity, too, is a human value. I count three human values here, Nut. Do you see why?
nut 20-Nov-2004 20:59
How can you know that this time is the human value? If you question me how many human
value that I knew? I really don't know how to answer. How can you know this?
nut 14-Nov-2004 18:20
Moody grandma.
Phil Douglis04-Nov-2004 03:52
Emotions tell stories, Larry. And she was very emotional that day.
Guest 04-Nov-2004 03:02
She was having a bad day, but you were making a great picture. Something good comes out of almost everything!
Phil Douglis02-Dec-2003 21:53
Anna -- I could not make her happy by buying something from her -- other folks were buying stuff, and she was still frustrated. In any event, I think the expressions make the picture work -- they show people as they really are, not as they would like to be presented.

Anna Yu02-Dec-2003 05:52
yes, a mundane explanation to an enigmatic picture. You could probably have made her smile by buying something from her :-)
Have a good trip/Anna
Phil Douglis02-Dec-2003 00:20
Thanks, Anna, for the good comment. You are right -- the "soul-stealing" aspect of photography is always a consideration. However in this case, I had no problems photographing other members of this village. I think this particular woman may have been trying to sell crafts to us (they were all over the ground), and she could not make herself understood, hence the frustration.
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