The New York Times' Lensblog is featuring Matt Black's "People of the Clouds" documentary work this week. What comes across most clearly is how Black uses his grainy almost ghost-like technique to convey a culture that is deeply rooted in the land.
Black's sensitivity to the people he photographs along with his gritty pre-digital style is reminenscent of the work of W. Eguene Smith. Smith was motivated by stories that captured the human condition in the most compelling and intelligent ways possible. The same can be said of Black obvious commitment to his storytelling approach. Many of his pictures evoke emotional connections, but there is also a sense of curiousity that isn't exploitative.
Many photographers approach making images of different cultures much like a taxidermist might prepare a trophy catch. There is a long tradition in photography of conveyingf people in developing and exotic lands as primitive or even savage. Historically, the act of making pictures as "trophies" of the other, can be traced to colonial times. Images accompanied pacification and the submission of indigenous peoples. The flip side of this argument is that photography preserved disappearing ways of life and culture.
There is this feeling that looking at someone, freezing them in a moment of time, that often reflect more on our differences than of our similiarities. Of course there will be differences, but it is the bond formed between the people and the photographer that is critical here. Black seems to approach what he sees with a sense of reverance, which is only more amplified through his method.