Contrasts of Life

Being a photographer means moving around in all layers of the society. You get to photograph the rich and the poor; you get to photograph the leaders and people at the other end of the ladder; you get to photograph those who are happy and those who are struggling to survive. For me it’s one of the huge attraction about being a photographer. Besides actually photographing, of course.

After having seen and photographed both the bright and dark sides of human life, you learn to appreciate whatever you experience of happy and good moments yourself—and I believe you start to see the world around you with more humility. Life is not one of the other, not for anyone. Some struggle more than others, and for some life comes easier than for others. There is no telling who will end up where—even when you are born on a bed roses.

Last week I got to photograph both extremes. First, I was fortunate enough to photograph the wedding of a lovely couple. A wedding is one of the happiest and most beautiful events in anyone’s life and for a photographer to be able to photograph this blissful moment in someone’s life is a gift and a blessing.

Some days later, I did a story about a horrible drug scene that has developed over time close to a rehabilitation centre. It was a place of sadness and misery. While I was interviewing and photographing some of the drug addicts, others were shooting up around me, some not being able to set the needle properly. Blood was flowing from a multitude of wounds. Just a few meters or yards away was a young guy completely passed out, laying across a staircase under a bridge. By the end of my visit, an ambulance arrived, this time it was a woman who had overdosed and needed to be taken to the hospital. The place was like entering Dante’s purgatory. In particularly that was true for an underpass. It was simply terrible. Rats were all over the place, it was filthy and full of garbage—and used syringes were all over the place. And then all walls tagged and littered. Not a place most people would want to stay.

Nevertheless, it’s really eye opening to visit and talk to the condemned of the society, to experience their heartbreaking and hopeless way of life, and then realize that they are just as much human beings as the rest of us, with the same dreams and the same desires.

It’s a quite a leap from the happiness of a wedding to the despair of drug addiction. Nevertheless, it’s all part of the human experience—if not for every single human being. Fortunately enough, one would add. However, being able to learn from the whole spectrum is often what makes working as a documentary photographer both fulfilling and such a learning experience.

76 thoughts on “Contrasts of Life

  1. I’d rather bask in the beauty of a forest waterfall and the happiness of a wedding, but I’ve seen real pain and poverty too, and knowing that changed a lot of my perspective of the world. I think we’d have a better society if more people saw what’s under the bridge. Good for you for showing it to others.

  2. To see how some people have to cope with a life less fortunate is indeed a sobering experience, and one that can make you truly appreciate active of what you have…. My life is no longer as ‘easy’ as it was as my health has gone downhill, but hey, I know I am way luckier than many people….

    1. It is indeed sobering. And sometimes it does make it easier to accept when our own life is becoming more difficult. Of course, it all depends on how challenging it is, then. 🙂

  3. Those happy and wonderful moments leave a positive imprint when we experience them in person, but the opposite type of experience – like this story you shared – leaves a deep searing brand that never fades in its intensity. It’s always sobering to me how brutally honest some people can be when sharing the darker side, opening the window to their story and allowing/inviting us to peer inside.

    Thank you for sharing the extremes and how they affect you…

  4. Wow, such contrasting events for the short time together. I am not sure what you felt but I am not sure what I feel from seeing both ends of the spectrum like this. Both pictures you presented here are great. I love both but my mind is dwelling on the story behind the second picture. Such a great capture!

    1. I understand why one’s mind might be more dwelling with second story. It’s just heartbreaking to see the back side of our society like this and how paralyzed it is in helping these people.

  5. You have a gift. I have probably walked past, or nearby, many similar scenes and people so many times but never really noticed. Beyond your skill with the camera, it’s clear that you not only see what so many of us overlook, but you immerse yourself in a wide variety of settings.
    I think this makes life much more full. And it’s a talent I wish I had more of.

    1. I am not sure I have more talent that others, but I do have a willingness to explore all the variety of human life. Which I think does make life more full. Thank you for the comment, Gabe.

  6. Yes indeed this is quiet a contrast of live, yet as a photographer we are being so gifted to document other peoples life in any aspect. We immerse in happy moments and challenging moments, yet it all gets peoples attention.

  7. Otto, you perfectly captured the contrasts of life… It was a touching story. You are privileged to be a part of happiness and pain of other humans as a photographer. Thanks for sharing.

  8. My family, and many of the people I grew up with, all turned away from the uglier sides of life, but for me personally, it’s been important to look at both sides, at times it’s been thrust on me unwillingly, but still, you learn, and it makes life so much richer. What a juxtaposition your two photographs are, but like you say, you learn from the whole spectrum.

  9. You liked my post and I spontaneously and quickly decided to look at your blog before going to sleep, but I really was intrigued. Photos confused me, I thought how can they be related? And now I see. This article really moved me. Many writes loooong stories that means nothing, but you shortly and only with two photos described essential thing. Amazing! ❤️

  10. It take extraordinary skills to be a documentary photographer, and you are a remarkable one. More importantly, it requires empathy and sensitivity to photograph them, like these two photos and the photos of your second family. This article is quite educational for me, yet very moving.
    Thank you so much for sharing with us, Otto. 🙂

  11. Hello Otto,
    Yes, as a documentary photographer it would be only fair to show things as they really are. How very upsetting for you though to have been witness to such suffering. Well thought out piece of writing, thank you.
    Best of luck,
    Di 💐

    1. Yes, it can be upsetting to witness the suffering of our fellow human beings, but also necessary to do. That is one reason why I became and journalist and a photographer. 🙂

  12. moving around in all layers of society – i like that description. what a contrast the two photos make to one another and each is exceptional in its own right.

  13. I think it takes great fortitude to document the dregs of life. It is hard to confront the reality of how low our lives can go when things go wrong, and wrong, and more wrong. It seems to be an exponential trajectory downward. Come to think of it, the bride and groom will also have to mine some lows in the future. I hope they make it back up.

  14. I guess writing and photography are to ways to express the life and to relive the memories and a way to share our experiences to the world and you are doing both….Thankyou for sharing this…

  15. It is a great gift of photography to explore the light and dark that fills human lives. I think powerful images can help us see each with both compassion and joy. Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. Wow, definitely two extremes but both stories need to be told.We have a huge fentynal problem here in western Canada and it is slowly making its way eastward. People are dying.and we have sites where addicts can go to shoot up and get medical attention if they overdose.It is good that you can gain their trust to get photos.

  17. Thankyou for this Otto – It’s always important to keep going back to understanding that we are human being in need of love and acceptance. Every single person has a story that needs to be listened to and empathized with. However we are usually just too wound up doing our own lives to have much time, energy or resources to offer much relief. so we hope that the “government” will find a solution. But those in power have other priorities as well.

  18. Life is also unpredictable. For example, this man on the street might have been previously the happy married man in the picture … Dear greetings from Beek.

  19. Well as a recovering addict and a person who have been married twice I can relate to both amazing pictures. It’s important for me to keep a well balanced perspective on life even with 7 years, 2 months and 16 days clean because I’m only one thought or one feeling away from going to back to that animalistic lifestyle.

  20. This was a difficult read for me, Otto. Heartbreaking really. We have recently been struggling with coming to terms with a young member of our family fully enveloped in his addiction. As a family we still have to attend weddings and celebrations, always thinking in the about these joyful things never going to happen for the one who has chosen “life under the bridge”. Your photographs perfectly represent the constant struggle in my heart and in my head.

  21. I think there is something about art/photography (even documentary photography, to me, is an art form) that seems to make the artist/photographer more aware of the deep connections between all of us, and between everything. You capture that beautifully in your images and words. 🙂

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