“The Best Picture I Never Took”
– Frank Van Riper
In combining my talents as both a writer and photographer I am doing something unusual and, I think, important in the field of documentary photography. Though there are any number of photographers who also are good writers, there are precious few writers who also are good photographers—or at least who can shoot at a professional level. Combine this with the traditional aversion to letting a shooter write about his or her own take, and you have a situation in which, on documentary or editorial projects, the photographer often is forced to work with a writer, sometimes with the two rarely having been in the same place at the same time.

This duality can raise, in the words of one National Geographic shooter I know, the maddening question: “Was this person even on the same planet I was on?” once the magazine goes to bed.

Happily, I can write my own text to illuminate my own pictures. On projects like these—editorial and documentary work in which the experience can be as important as the image—I’m hard put to think anyone could write a more appropriate text than the person who actually made the picture. When it works well–and it works better and very well the more I do it—I am able to create a synergy in which the result is more than the sum of its parts.

All photos © Frank Van Riper from his book “A World Apart: Down East Maine.” The whale pictures were shot at the Bay of Fundy, the tent revival on the outskirts of Lubec.

Frank Van Riper, a 1979 Nieman Fellow, is a photographer and writer.

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