There are a number of challenges about photographing groups, and the larger the group so the problems multiply. Trying to herd them into some sort of composition is the first challenge, closely followed by the short attention span that means someone will look at their friend, a passing cat, or the sky behind them at the moment you squeeze the shutter release. Even if you manage to get them all looking at you, someone is bound to have a strange expression. Last weekend I shot a relatively small group of 15 people and it took a composite of 5 different images to create one where I had their full attention!
Then there’s gesture. Young Chinese, Japanese and Thai students seem unable to be photographed without making a V sign, and in the West there’s always someone who wants to do “bunny ears”. Ostensibly similar, these gestures have very different meanings; the Oriental version can be traced back to the 1970’s, and whilst there are different views as to its origin, it is used to signify happiness in much the same way as we would say “cheese”!
The western version, which when referred to as “bunny ears” sounds so innocuous, has a less savoury origin, and is the sign for a cuckold, a man with an adulterous wife. The raised fingers were supposed to represent antlers, and refers to a defeated stag who is forced to relinquish his mating rights when defeated by another male. Whilst the word cuckold itself is a reference to the behaviour of the cuckoo in invading other nests, in many other languages the word for the betrayed male has some meaning akin to “the wearer of horns”. This is even found in Vietnam and the Caribbean, though I suspect this is as a result of European empire building.
It seems strange that society, rather than judge the errant female should decide that the wronged spouse should pay the price of further humiliation, “the nuclear bomb of emotions” according to psychologist and dignity expert Evelin Lindner. It seems that for all our moral codes and marriage vows, we’re rooting for the those who commit infidelity and grant no mercy to those already hurt.
In many countries the cuckold symbol is the most insulting gesture you can make, yet most of us are so ignorant of the powerful message, hence the prevalence of its use in group photographs. All in all a good reason for my preference for photographing individuals, where no one can distract from or undermine the message of one person’s expression.
Thanks to Bob for being today’s subject.