Dona Schwartz, 50, has a Ph.D. in Visual Communication from the University of Pennsylvania and has spent most of her career teaching, writing, and thinking about photography. Four years ago she decided to, as she puts it, “grapple with the issues of photography firsthand.” Despite her lifelong passion for the medium, her formal training consists of darkroom lessons from her 10th-grade boyfriend and two summer courses in her late teens. Both an artist and a teacher, she’s on the faculty at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Q. Tell me about this shot.
A. It’s a recreational soccer league that each of my children have participated in — I’ve been going to these games for about 15 years. I was always looking in the wrong direction, at the spectators instead of the sport.
Q. Why soccer moms?
A. I’m very curious about my peers: What do they feel about going to these games? Are they more interested than I am? What value do they see in it? One of the things I think is most interesting about photography is that it’s really about the photographer more than anything else. I’m choosing the moment, and the moment in this picture is a projection of how I feel. I picked this image because it’s about duty and self-sacrifice. We’re doing this for our kids.
Q. What made you take this picture?
A. The woman in the center got my attention: She has two pairs of sunglasses on and she doesn’t even seem to notice. When we’re in our parenting mode, we’re often so unaware of how we look — we’re into the moment and into the kids. You’re so-and-so’s Mom, you’re not whoever you are.
Q. What camera do you use? Lens?
A. I choose what ever kind of camera suits the project I’m working on. This is shot with the Canon EOS-1D Mark II and a 17-35mm lens.
Q. Why the wide angle?
A. I like people to know that I’m there photographing, and I like to be close to them when I do it. I tried a long lens, but it seemed more like cold, detached surveillance. I didn’t like the way that felt.
Q. How did your subjects respond to being photographed?
A. Some of the parents wanted to know if I was with a newspaper. I’d explain that I was an artist and it was for my own interest. They’d often think it was peculiar to be interested in these soccer games from that perspective. I would approach people, talk to them, and get a sense of how receptive they were.
Q. Any problems while shooting?
A. Not really. People were pretty agreeable — a little confused, but very tolerant. Sometimes you don’t know whether to attribute that to your subjects or your manner. You need a degree of sensitivity for people to welcome you. I hope I get people to feel relaxed. You need a level of persistence, too, where it’s clear that you’re not going away. In the end, I often said to people: Everybody pays attention to the kids on the field, but I think it’s the parents who are the heroes.