Archive for May, 2012

The Quest for Interest.

A simple question; are your photographs interesting, or photographs of interesting things?

As photographers we are always looking to make interesting or compelling photographs, but we often fall into the trap of mistaking a photograph of an interesting subject, for an interesting photograph. For example, take a picture of Rodins ‘The Thinker’ (literally if you are able), and one of a brick.

The picture of The Thinker has a head start; providing you are able to correctly expose the image, and the lighting is reasonable, viola, interesting photograph. But how much credit for that interest can you, as a photographer, claim? Now, take the photograph of the brick. The subject is doing you few favours, (unless it happens to be a particulalry interesting brick), and so to make this photograph interesting we must do more, we must excercise our creativity to create a compelling photograph.

The Scultptor gave me a head start to create an interesting picture.

I am not saying that it is not possible to excercise creative skill when photographing interesting things to create astounding photographs, but simply that the job is already half way there; a poor photograph of Elvis shopping will earn the photographer a small fortune, a poor photograph of a brick will earn the photographer nothing but a bad reputation.

We should, as consciencious phototographers, be constantly seeking to improve our skills, and I think the greatest demonstration of skill lies in being able to take the most mundane of subjects and instill them with interest, this is why I hold commercial photographers, who must routinely find interest in the most ordinary of subjects, in the highest regard.

So, the next time you are bemoaning the lack of interesting subjects to photograph, stretch yourself. Take the most ordinary of items and try to create the most extraordinary of photographs.

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Zen and the Art of Film.

Recently I have started using film again. Not for work you understand; most editors and agencies would have apoplexy if faced with a colour slide or roll of Tri X, but for pleasure.

And, I have to say, I am enjoying this renaissance, this return to a method of working which on the face of it, seems inconvenient and slow. So where is the pleasure in using this medium, which we are told is rapidly becoming obsolete?

Firstly for me is the equipment itself; my Digital SLR is a versatile sophisticated professional tool. It is also a complex electronic appliance, with mazes of menus and settings and a myriad of buttons to control it’s every action. My film camera however is a simple mechanical device with no more controls than are necessary to create an image. It is often said that the camera doesn’t matter in the picture taking process, but I feel a stronger affinity with my simple film camera, a more direct control of the picture taking process; it isn’t doing anything that I am not aware of, and this inevitably affects the pictures that I take, and importantly, the pleasure that I derive whilst taking them.

Of course one of the more profound differences between film and digital is that of time. With film there is no immediate ‘chimping’ of the image, no instant gratification, no editing on the fly. Without the constant draw and temptation of the image review, I am free to concentrate on taking pictures. But what about checking exposure? For many years photographers, myself included, took properly exposed pictures with no more than an exposure meter (and sometimes not even that) and a well practiced brain; it’s simply a matter of learning the craft.

This delay between the taking of pictures and their review could have another positive side effect. Sometimes after working on a picture I find that when re-visiting the image after several days my opinion of it has changed; this time lapse from the taking of the image to its editing, means that I can view the image far more objectively. Any attachment caused by the recent knowledge of how difficult an image was to take, is eroded, and I can view the picture more ‘purely’ or dispassionately, and this has to be a good thing for the editing process. This is, after all, what professional picture editors do on a daily basis; they review images objectively with no knowledge, and therefore prejudice, based upon how the picture was created, and form judgements purely on the image as presented.

There is one final appeal, which may not apply to everyone, but it certainly appeals to my esoteric nature, and it’s this: not many people use film anymore. At a recent event it seemed that everyone had a camera; with the proliferation of affordable digital SLR’s they are everywhere, but amongst this throng of wannabe paparazzi I was, it appears, the only one using film. This gave me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of distancing from the masses. Snobbery? Possibly. But let’s be honest, we all want to feel a little bit special, a little different from the common man, is there any harm in that?

Whilst digital may be the necessary journey, the high speed train rushing us from shutter press to finished image, film is the Zen Way, where the journey is just as important as the destination. Think of it this way; even if the destination is disappointing, at least if you have enjoyed the journey, your time will not have been wasted.

What Street Photography Shouldn’t Be.

My photography ploughs two furrows; firstly there are the photographs that I take to earn a crust; these are primarily of the product shot or studio variety, and secondly there are the pictures I take for pleasure; which are everything else.

Some of these are what might be termed ‘street photographs’ in the sense that they are taken of, or in, the street. The term; ‘street photography’; is not one I like, but given that the purpose of language is to communicate, and using the term evokes the correct notion of the style, then it is one which I grudgingly accept and use.

Recently one such photograph received a significant amount of criticism, this one:

The criticism centres around the fact that the lady in the picture is my wife; a fact of which I make no secret. The implication is that, in order to be a genuine street photograph, the protagonists must be strangers to the photographer. This demands a lot of the viewer; to know the relationship to the photographer of each of the subjects within a photograph before deciding it’s quality. I may be lazy, but for me that level of research for each photograph I endeavour to appreciate is just too much work. Also one must decide how many levels of separation are acceptable; apparently spouses are out, but what about Uncles? Cousins?

Do I know this woman, and does it matter?

No, and no.

This to me is symptomatic of what much street photography has become; a test of bravery. The notion of capturing a decisive moment, an interesting interplay of characters or design in everyday life, is lost; it is sufficient to demonstrate bravery by sticking a camera in the face of a stranger, to be a good street photograph.

For me a good single photograph, (excepting those which illustrate articles or features) should stand alone with no explanation needed. I don’t need to know the relationships of those involved, or the lengths to which the photographer went to capture the image. These should be irrelevant, and place too much emphasis on the viewer; as photographers we should make the viewers life easy, a photograph should be interesting and endearing with no explanation required.

Trying to deconstruct an image beyond this is perhaps missing the point, and is perhaps the realm of those who obsess over such aspects as sharpness or bokeh, which whilst relevant to the picture, are not the picture.

To quote Garry Winogrand, “I take pictures to see what something will look like as a picture.” Nothing more, nothing less.

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