Given we’re in the first day of the Cinematic Masterclass with Zeiss in Hanoi, it seems only appropriate that I bring back this classic post for another round – with new images, of course!
My initial idea for this post was to examine where street photography is going today; on further reflection, I think it’s perhaps more a question of addressing some overdone stereotypes perpetrated by camera collectors and social media warriors – not photographers – to see if we can get a bit more understanding into a) why those stereotypes exist, and b) if we want to produce visually different and better work, what needs to change. Read on, but only if you don’t believe everything should be shot from close range and monochrome contrast is solely binary.
Most of the regular readers here will be familiar with the concept of ‘the four things’ – this is to say that there are a few elements that are independent of content that every image must have in order for it to leave some sort of impression on its audience. The framework is both a useful checklist and teaching tool to get a photographer to a certain level of proficiency; however, it can be restrictive in the sense that it is still somewhat formulaic. And that’s half the challenge here: if you can fulfil a list of objectives to make an outstanding image, then what is the function of the photographer? Surely these things could be programmed into an algorithm and left to its own devices to make the next hundred great photographs of the century? Wrong. There’s still one last element which will never foreseeably be automated or predicted or planned.
My Canon 5DSR arrived a couple of days ago. Surprise #1: it’s not a loaner. Surprise #2: I haven’t had time to shoot with it yet. For somebody who’s not known for having any particular interest in ‘the other side’, questions are bound to be asked. And I’m sure somebody will also mention the A7RII. But, there is a method to the madness – it’s not wanton equipment lust that I’ve fallen victim to, though my bank account will certainly need some time to recover from the shock of both a Leica Q and 5DSR within the space of a week. I would love to share images, but – see Surprise #2. Since early June, I’ve been back to back on assignments, the hanging, opening and related activities around my exhibition Connection in Hong Kong – during which we raised $2.4m for two charities in print sales, auctions and sponsorships – and I was back in Kuala Lumpur just long enough to attend the Q launch party, pick up the 5DSR and make sure my family still remembered me. Images will therefore continue to be forthcoming.
These questions may be technically difficult, contextually difficult, commercially difficult, diplomatically difficult or all four – but at some point, we’ve all had to face them. Some of us more than others. And the real challenge is that the answer always depends on who’s asking. Read on if you dare.
In a previous post, I tackled the general concept of an abstract photograph. I think it can be refined down something of the following: an image which is balanced equally across the entire frame such at that no one area attracts your attention more than any other area; the eye wanders, takes in the details, and never really lingers. By this definition, there is no subject since no one area or element of the photograph stands out more than any other; however, you could probably also argue that the entire frame is really the subject. Semantics is a funny thing, though, and this isn’t quite the definition of the term: we must think in terms of essences and summaries instead. An ‘abstract’ of a paper or article is really the core idea distilled down to the simplest possible terms; the objective elevator pitch rather than the marketing tagline. Today’s article tackles the visual equivalent of that: how do we take an idea and translate that into something visual?
I’ve never really talked much about what is probably the most important process in photography other than conceptualisation and capture/execution of the image itself. Even though it isn’t directly part of the photographic process, curation has probably the greatest impact out of all of the possible things you can do to control the way your work is perceived. Coincidentally, we’ve been running for a little over three years now, and this is also post number 1,000 – excluding the reposts. At an average length of 1,500 words per post (and many well into 4,000-5,000 range, plus the mammoth Camerapedia), that means there’s around ~2,200,000 words of primary content on the site, not including the comments. Not bad considering an average paperback is in the 100,000 word range. I suppose it’s therefore also somewhat fitting (and perhaps a touch ironic) that I celebrate being prolific by discussing the opposite. It seems it’s simpler to do it than talk about it, but equally important to do so in order to understand why…
In part one we looked at why images of people fascinate us, and the nature of portraiture. However, this only covers half of the possibilities for ‘images of people’: instances where the subject is a conscious and cooperative part of the process. What about the other possibility: where the subject is not aware the photographer, or only aware of them in the most fleeting of moments before any conscious self-image or rapport can be built?
The images in this article are all candid: unposed, unplanned, and with subject unaware. Even if it appears they may be looking at the camera in certain situations, it is a result of conscious timing, observation of something behind me, and/or a particular moment rather than catching a long stare. None of them showed any acknowledgement of my presence before or after the shot was taken, which was actually quite surprising in some situations. They saw me, but my presence didn’t register.
Today’s article is the first of two parts focusing on portraiture and human subjects as the focus of an image. It is not something I’m normally associated with because I rarely choose to show my work here; it doesn’t mean I don’t engage in it for personal reasons (which are usually not shared, obviously) or professional ones (I do have clients whose mainstay subjects are primarily human). Whilst curating images for a recent assignment, I had a couple of little personal epiphanies which I’d like to share with you all.
Why do we photograph? For the vast majority of the population, it’s because we want to record or document something. However, if you’re reading this site, I suspect it’s either because you really, really enjoy it, or it’s your job, or perhaps both. And I suspect that even if you do do this for a living, you’d have to have fallen into the former category at some point in time in order to think that it might even have been a slightly worthwhile exercise to undertake the current masochism that is professional photography, over say, banking. I know I did. In fact, I enjoyed photography in the early days (looking back, probably around 2001-2002) to the point it was probably slightly unhealthy and obsessive. But it did provide a creative outlet and set the foundations for today. Bottom line: we shoot because we enjoy it.
This article will be a sort of evolution of the Compact Fast Normal Conundrum…