At what point does a photograph become too intimate?

I think about photography as a most intimate form of communication. I do not refer to what we see in magazines or on billboards. Nor do I mean the street photographs that give the traveller tips about the world or its people. Nor do I mean the documentary photography which takes up a distant, detached angle on the intimacy of misery. And I do not mean the intimacy of love or nudity. What I mean is the intimacy of non-verbal, metaphoric, symbolic communication captured by the stillness of the shutter speed.


Who is saying more: the photographer who captures that moment (having first provoked it with a question, a word, a glass of wine, hours and hours of chatting...), the subject of the photograph (having become comfortable with that bright reflective black eye made out of layers of glass), or the people who would look at the photograph (seeing, through the eye of the photographer, trying to do a Theory-of-mind exercise penetrating the boundary between their own reality and that of the person with the camera: they become the true photographer themselves?).


I often feel frustrted seeing the pictures in fashion magazines, on facebook photography pages, and blogs: if you were an alien to visit us from the future and look at our portrayal of ourselves, you've got to conclude that we are miserable, depressed, and in need of affection. Growing up in Easter Europe post '89, I've seen this sadness engraved in each pore of people's faces. Now, with camera in hand, I find it difficult to push the button without the presence of a smile. You know those cameras that can take a picture once they detect a smile in the frame? I am that kind of camera. And I am lucky to have people in my life who have the glow. The ability of people to shine through the lights of the city, or the setting sun, or the candle is what inspires me every time to look them in the eyes and carry on with the ritual. 


In the process of putting a smile oneself, I take a picture of that shared moment - shared only between the two of us - that moment reveals who the person is, what she dreams of, where she travels, where she came from, what we talk about, what she thinks of me. In a sense, the process of taking such intimate portraits is a process of self-portraiture - gathering the pieces of the puzzle that make up the self: after all those people are part of my life for no casual reason. What is it that makes them a unique addition to my life? In these pictures, I no longer see the other person 'in that moment', nor do I see myself in that moment - I see a dynamic system that changes with every click of the mechanical clock, with every thunderbold and thunder, with every splash of the water. It is a system that minutes, hours, days, months, or years later will be stripping even more of its shields. And that's true intimacy.