Claire Yaffa took her first photograph 49 years ago when her son was 18 months old and it was the beginning of her journey, first as a mother, then as a photographer. She has worked extensively for The New York Times and Associated Press. Her photographs have appeared in countless influential publications and have been exhibited at major venues in the US and around the world.
As photographers we realize, it is not the camera, but ourselves that create a photograph. The photograph comes from many different sources. We take a photograph of a meaningful occasion, to commemorate and remember a celebration of a time passed. When we are no longer here, will it also disappear because we are not? Photography, from its inception, has created an inviolable presence of the past. It has helped to preserve memories of our lives and the meaningfulness of those we have loved and perhaps lost. As photographers, we point our camera at something that catches our eye or imagination. When this happens, perhaps not knowing why, we begin a discovery of not only who we are, but also what it is we most care about.
As a photographer I ask, “Who are you? What do you want to say? What have you learned? What do you care about with your heart and soul? Is it just a pretty picture you want to take or is it just because of who you are?” Photography has enabled so many people to notice the world around them, whether captured with their iPhones or their Leica cameras. It is gratifying to see many people photographing and able to appreciate what they are seeing.
However, sometimes a thought appears and they wonder what will they do with all the photographs they are taking. There is so much to see. With the ability of cameras and technology today, we are able to share ourselves and what we are responding to with all who are willing to pay attention to what we are doing.
“Are you a serious photographer?” Alexander Liberman asked me. He cautioned me, which I have never forgotten, “Claire, do be careful not to make your photographs too precious.” Lisette Model, whom I had the privilege to know said, “Claire, never take a photograph unless it hits you in the pit of your stomach.”
The photographs I selected for this Leica chapter I hope remain true to them. Whether it was the first photograph I ever took, which was of my son 49 years ago, or my project of children as an endangered species – the homeless, abused, children with AIDS in this country, Potter’s Field, where children are buried, having no one to pay for a burial, Holocaust survivors, hidden children and Christian rescuers before they are forgotten – and also the beauty which surrounds us. I used my camera to call attention to problems in our society, becoming in the tradition of Cornell Capa, “a concerned photographer.”
Why do we take a photograph? Are we trying to cheat the inequities and the brief time we might have in our life. We grab or take the photograph. We want to live, to continue our lives, to see, to be in this world, perhaps to share what we care about. We want to be able to make a difference in the subjects we choose to photograph. We want to be remembered, as we all do. Life is not always the way we expect it to be. The wonders are there, even if you do not see them, feel them or choose not to photograph them; they become a part of you. Each day reveals pleasure and pain. Life is an adventure. You travel with yourself and your camera. It is your decision what you photograph. This decision depends on your life and who you are. You have many choices.
We are ourselves. This is who we are. When you share yourselves with your camera, it is an opportunity to express your realization of life’s beauty and fragility. The happiness and sadness resides in us. It is our choice to discover how to convey the feelings of who we are and what we want to say.
– Claire Yaffa
You can also see more of Claire’s work on her website, claireyaffa.com.