The one that got away is captured right here


Writer-photographer Michael David Murphy, 34, captures a few picture-perfect moments with words rather than with film. For these missed photo opportunities, he created the text-blog Unphotographable (

The San Francisco-based Murphy launched the site in November 2004 after a trip to Ethiopia, where shooting photos in Muslim areas of the country was frowned upon.

“As a photographer of candid street scenes, I don’t want my camera to adversely affect my surroundings,” he writes in an e-mail. “In some cities and villages in Africa (as well as Asia) this is nearly impossible. A camera elicits strong reactions (both negative and positive), but they’re reactions nonetheless.”


A recent blog entry is representative of how “unphotographs” can be much more descriptive than Polaroids or pixels: “This is a picture I did not take of a rainsoaked woman with white hair in a white jogging suit with red stripes down the legs, walking toward me in a downpour, carefully pressing a white kleenex against her bloody nose.”

One of Murphy’s favorite images is of Burmese soldiers in a caravan of trucks “full of teak desks and potted plants away from Yangon in the middle of the night, in the military’s massive effort to relocate the capitol of Myanmar to the middle of the jungle, fearing an American invasion.”

Although he had a camera in his lap, Murphy knew better than to shoot the scene -- Burma greatly discourages visitors from taking photos of anything related to security or the military. On the site, he writes, “Much of the country is officially Unphotographable.”

Murphy also carted his camera to a film premiere when he spotted director Werner Herzog and “a young, blonde, sunglassed woman emerging from the backseat of a chauffeured car ... the sunglassed woman confidently stepping onto the street as if acutely aware of the attention her youth, blondeness, and sunglasses might demand....” But he didn’t snap the photo.

The unphotographed version of the picture tells a much more complete story than a single shot, Murphy says. “Unphotographed moments aren’t burdened by the constraints of a shutter’s opening and closing.”

With his blog, Murphy shows that sometimes, a thousand words paints the most vivid picture.

-- Christine N. Ziemba