The emotional detachment of a camera

Eposure member David Vaaknin tells his story of his photojournalism, and why knowing your subject and the things relevant to them as well as gaining people’s trust and the support from home, are important in his work.

Eposure: You’ve worked mostly in reportage/documentary/photojournalism/editorial photography. How did you start out?

DV: “I started to take pictures back in 2002 while traveling across the U.S. and South America, it was just a hobby back then, and frankly, I did not have a clue about photography. I bought a film camera and some books about photography, and pretty soon I was drawn in by the subject.

When I got back to Israel I started taking photos for an Israeli news website and went on to shoot for ‘Israel Hayom’ a daily newspaper. I think news was always one of my interests and certainly a lot happens in Israel at almost any given time. It is never boring there. Perhaps photojournalism is just my way to feel like I’m a part of what’s going on.”

Eposure: In your editorial work on your site you’ve encapsulated the subject, their feelings and its context. With emotion running so high around you, how do you keep focussed on capturing the moment?

DV: “It is always difficult shooting sad or bad things, especially funerals and things related to terror attacks. Unfortunately these things can occur on a daily basis in Israel. I think there are three things that help me in these situations or situations similar. Firstly, as any photojournalist will probably tell you, being behind the camera gives you the extra space and the emotional detachment, and it also helps to focus on the work itself, meaning getting the shot and not contemplating on the situation you’re witnessing too much while you’re there. Secondly, being attentive to your subjects and to the environment you’re in, knowing when not to take the picture or even taking the camera out of its bag. Sometimes it is just too dangerous to take pictures and its simply protecting yourself, your gear, or both. Sometimes there is no justification to take the photo, meaning that taking a certain picture will not help the viewer’s understand the story. If it is not pertinent to the story, then I think there is no need to cause grief or sorrow to the ones you document. Thirdly, the support from my family and especially my wife helps me a lot. It is good to know in the back of your mind that you have someone back home who supports and tries to understand what you’re doing, someone that listens to your stories. I think that it’s important and helpful to tell and to think about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen after the fact.”

Eposure: You’re clearly stood amongst your subjects when photographing them – why do you think that’s important and how do you make your subjects appear unaware of your presence?

DV: “I’ll start from the last part of your question, most of the time the subjects are very aware of you and the camera(s). Today there are just so many people documenting events that it’s almost impossible to go unnoticed. In fact, a lot of events, mainly protest and riots, happen because the organizers know they’ll get a lot of coverage. However, and this is probably more relevant to news and editorial work, it is important just to be there where things happen, and when you’re there you should carefully think about when is the time to document, and when is the best time to keep a low profile. For reportage and documentary I would say you have to gain people’s trust quite a while before you even start taking pictures. That’s the key I guess.”

Eposure: You work in a lot of photojournalism, and judging by your image narrative, you’ve become knowledgeable of your subject and the scenario. As a photographer do you think it’s important and why?

DV: “It is very important to know where you are, your subjects and things relevant to them. Part of working in photojournalism is of course, knowing the journalism part, the history, and the present story. It is also very important to understand the situation or scenario, partly for your own safety but mostly because you are telling a story and there’s just no way of doing that without knowing the background, the traditions, the people involved and the actual situation as it is happening.”

For more information about David and his work please visit his website at



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