show the coffin, the picture is immediately readable as “funeral.” This makes it a good “story-telling picture.” The coffin, a strong visual element, sits where people will parade by it. Eventually, two of them will hug next to it. The hug — obvious visual shorthand for the emotion — is bound to happen. All you have to do is get the coffin and the hug together in the frame without any distracting background. The more successfully you do this, the greater the photograph’s impact. This picture “works” for every funeral you will ever have to cover.

Photographers, then, as a matter of efficiency, shoot from an implicit script, using standard forms to say standard things about standard topics. The script is derived from professional practices and conventions that define appropriate subjects and standards of good work. Eventually, these skills, and the physical movements required to accomplish them, became embodied knowledge, things my body knew how to do without conscious direction. Internalized, they seemed natural, intuitive, instinctive. My body knew where to stand, how to hold the camera, when to make the exposures.(8)


I didn’t intend to study religion when I began photographing an alcoholism treatment program for Native Americans. I went on to photograph at missions and shelters for the homeless because many of the people in the alcoholism program had lived on the streets and frequented these places before entering treatment. I knew nothing about the activities of the missions and shelters or the extensive networks connecting them to organized religion. The link between the two worlds, as I later learned, was more than an arrangement for financial support; many church members regularly went to the missions to serve meals and testify at the gospel services. These things became apparent only when I learned how the missions and shelters operated. Later still, I learned how these groups differed among themselves in how they assigned blame for and assessed the causes of the “problems” they saw in the missions and how they decided what had to be done to fix things. In large part, I became interested in religion because I couldn’t avoid it.