Last 3th of February I made a first attempt to become an insider of one of the most traditional festive celebrations in my city, and which I had never attended. I tried to put myself in the position of an insider, but I clearly did not get it and all I did was keep out of the events, limiting myself to photographing what caught my attention. What did not work correctly?
First, the choice of the subject. A public event of the size of this celebration, where such a crowd of people, with totally different interests and origins, makes it very difficult to find a reference identity with which to line up as an insider. From an external point of view, it is a festival of religious origin, which has resulted in a gastronomic event in which the religious implications have disappeared. At the narrative level, this could be a point of interest that would allow us to develop a story around this conflict that occurs between the religious motivations of some and the gastronomic of others.
This leads me directly to the second consideration: time; Acquiring the status of an insider requires time and patience; Individuals often have a suspicious attitude towards the camera, so a direct approach often provokes suspicion and rejection. This depends on the character of the person and the context in which the approach takes place: more introverted people may require more time to overcome initial reservations, and private contexts where personal distance is narrower require more patience and diplomatic skills. In the biography of Diane Arbus there is a paragraph that perfectly sums up the strategy used by the American photographer to approach the subjects:
“When she first approached the freaks offstage with her cameras, they stared at her blankly; they seemed haughty, taciturn; they didn’t feel comfortable with a “normal” in their midst. She was gentle and patient with them, coming in every day, talking with them until they got used to her and ‘she became almost one of the gang’, says Presto, who was performing his fire-eating act at Hubert’s then. One she felt the freaks trusted her, she asked them to pose.”
Third, the position of the insider does not imply complete integration into the group; In my opinion it is a question of being accepted so that the presence of the photographer does not affect the normal behavior of the reference group. The point of view from within the group totally changes the perspective of the story that is told. For example, I can tell totally different stories of a group of bikers, either by watching them pass the road from the sidewalk or participating with them riding a motorcycle.
The photographer’s vision is also influenced by his/her own opinion, and even from the privileged position of the insider can tell different stories, emphasizing different aspects or privileging certain points of view.
In the case of the festival of Bembrive, a party of religious origin that has become gastronomic over the years, my vision was too focused on the religious character of the party and virtually ignores the fundamental fact: that it is not the Holy one that summons to that crowd of people, but the food and the drink.