Tag Archives: Photography

On the Decisive Moment – ESSAY FROM BLACK+WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE 197

On the Decisive Moment
This article first appeared in Black & White Photography Magazine Issue 197, Winter 2016

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The dynamic of Henri Cartier Bresson’s photographs who’s innate poise and composition conferred an almost ethereally perfect quality was called the ‘Decisive Moment’ after Cardinal Retz was quoted in the preface to Cartier Bresson’s seminal and first book in 1952 – “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”.

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However, the power of this phrase may have been amplified inaccurately by a slight miss translation of this epoch making book which was first titled in French as ‘Images a la Sauvette’ which maybe better read as ‘images on the sly’ or ‘images on the run’. I believe these alternative translations are closer to the intentions of the original French publishers than its English translation implies. Nevertheless Cartier Bresson was convinced that there is a moment that captures the essence of a situation better than any other where dynamics, emotion and composition can be seen to be in perfect balance in a single image. The coincidence of emotional and compositional quality is what Cartier Bresson meant by the ‘Decisive Moment’.

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The French philosopher and writer, Roland Barthes, defined a point in an image around which the emotional sense, dynamic and composition hangs as the ‘punctum’ or ‘point’ if you prefer. It should be noted that only the concept of the ‘Decisive Moment’ refers to the value of a picture. The ‘punctum’ is a descriptive term aiding an ontological discussion about a photograph. Either way both Cartier Bresson and Roland Barthes have identified an empirical way to evaluate an image. It is very interesting that both these concepts became popular at around about the same time, mid 20th century, when photography was looking for a home in the museums and galleries of the world rather than its natural environment of magazines and newspapers.

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The ‘Decisive Moment’  – it’s tenets of timing, spontaneity and geometry has both inspired and crushed photographers ever since ‘Images a la Sauvette’ was published. So many have been inspired to become photographers by the work of Cartier Bresson and his adherence to the ‘Decisive Moment’. But anyone standing at the precipice of a lifetime to be spent photographing, ready to dive in because he or she has fallen in love with the ‘Decisive Moment’ is about to jump with a large and unwieldy weight attached to their legs.

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The presence of this analogical weight means that, most likely, they will tumble without grace or form into the depths instead of beautifully gliding swallow like into the limpid blue as they would have dreamed. This is because the notional weight of the ‘Decisive Moment’ will mean a fruitless struggle with a concept that impedes the best motives of photography.

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Compare the work of, say, Gary Winogrand with that of Cartier Bresson. Unquestionably the style of both relies on the ‘Decisive Moment’. Cartier Bresson’s images are more conventionally beautiful and frequently show his geometric signature whereas Winogrand’s images rely on tensions and dynamics of his very human subjects. But a more important difference is their respective intentions; Cartier Bresson’s version of the ‘Decisive Moment’ is architectural, graphically dynamic and perfectly poised where as Winogrand tells us about ourselves. It could be said of Winogrand’s work that the concept of the ‘Decisive Moment’ serves only as a ‘hook’ to draw the viewer closer to a more pressing and vital clue to the human condition manifest in his images, that is to say, Winogrand’s photographs give us a glimpse of where we have been and where we are heading.

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Cartier Bresson said “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”  This is as close to the source of the concept of the ‘Decisive Moment’ as we can get. It describes the qualities of a unique image taken in isolation to the wider context and relevance to the time in which it was taken – in other words a picture’s manifestation of the ‘Decisive Moment’ relates only to itself and excludes any other appraisal or criticism. But how can a medium as adaptable as photography be confined to a qualification that references only itself and does not relate the image to the world in a wider context?

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For many, Cartier Bresson is the ‘photographer master’ and his development of the concept of the ‘Decisive Moment’ is the sine qua non of artistic possibility. I confess a deep affection for his images and I am addicted to his portraits but the ‘dynamic’ or ‘form’ of his photographs should only constitute the ‘point of entry’ to the world on display rather than the beginning, middle and end of the story.

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The ‘Decisive Moment’ is justly one of the greatest visual developments, discovered, named and mastered by one of the 20th century’s greatest artists but photography has a much grander, more powerful role to perform in the service of the human story. Photographers like Atget (of whom Cartier Bresson was a fan), Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Josef Koudelka, Nan Goldin, Stephen Shore and so many others have eschewed the tyranny of the ‘Decisive Moment’ in favour of powerful visual story telling that says so much by ignoring the moment and speaking of (and allowing for) eternities of understanding and truth. The ‘Decisive Moment’ has had its time and yet will be with us forever. To chase that moment of perfection in denial of greater more important ambitions for photography is much like chasing rainbows; sometimes fun, often exhausting but always futile.

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Next month I will be writing about the “final act of photography” (as HCB called it) – or the making of the photographic image into a print.

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New Photographica Conversation – Gavin Maxwell

Gavin Maxwell explores the liminal spaces between belief and faith and fact.

Portrait of Gavin ‘Otter’ Constable Maxwell – photographer and film maker by Alex Schneideman

Alex and Gavin sat down to discuss his work in film and stills photography on Wednesday 10th of February at the AS Printing studios

  • Amongst many interesting strands of conversation these are some that stand out:
  • The wistful understanding of the transience of life…
  • The hunt for truth in the larger body of one’s work.
  • Shooting exclusively on film.
  • The existence of ‘Thin Places’.
  • The way a photograph should be consumed.
  • The strange interplay between seemingly unrelated work.

Gavin Maxwell is a leading film-maker and photographer who has spent over 20 years making natural history, anthropological and environmental programmes for the BBC Natural History Unit and BBC Science.

His Wild China and Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands programmes have been viewed by millions of people worldwide. Gavin has also co-written two books for Random House, and lectured at the Royal Geographical Society in the UK and abroad. This year one of his large format film photographs of a human skeleton is a finalist Royal Photographic Society International Print competition.

Gavin’s website is www.gcmaxwell.com

Visit PHOTOGRAPHICA PODCAST WEBSITE

  • Photographica Podcast is brought to you in association with AS PRINTING – fine art printing for photographers, galleries and museums worldwide.

Blind Faith – A Response to Don McCullin

In November 2015 the great photojournalist, Don McCullin, said, “Digital photography is a lying medium”. He was half right. Film is a lying medium too.

Older photographers can often be heard observing the decline in standards that has accompanied the rise of digital photography. They often deplore the speed of the new format and speak warmly of the ‘beneficial limitations’ and immutable honesty of film. To a certain extent I’m one of them. I’m 46 and my training in photography was in film. As a teenager I had a darkroom in my bedroom and in the early 90’s when I became an assistant in various studios around London it was all film. There was no choice. The only ‘digitisation’ at that time was when film was scanned at great cost (or ‘put on the System’ in the parlance of the day) and usually only to correct something that would otherwise render the essential shot unusable. ‘The System’ was used in the last resort. As such digitisation was seen then as a failure rather than an opportunity.

I think it was in 1993 that I went to a presentation in Leicester (why Leicester?) on Photoshop 1. In a room above a shop  we were given a demonstration of how two different pictures could be combined to make another. In this demonstration a picture of a flame was used to replace a coxcomb on the head of a chicken. Result – a chicken with a flame on its head. A novelty perhaps – but also a clue to the way we would treat the mutability of digital technology when it would arrive in force.

Some experienced photographers argue that film is less adaptable than digital and therefore digital cannot be relied on as an instrument of truth. It could be argued that it was the advent of Photoshop in the film era rather than digital photography on its own which has undermined contemporary photography’s reputation for truthful rendition. Digital is no less a truth telling medium than film – its what we do with it afterwards that matters.

At the time of the birth of Adobe’s cornerstone software the great photographer Don McCullin was photographing for the Sunday Times capturing the horror of war and the cost of human conflict using Tri-X – his favourite black and white film. Wind forward over 20 years to November 2015 when he was quoted  in the Guardian as saying that digital photography will never equal film in its ability to reliably communicate the truth of a situation because of its innate mutability as contrasted with the innate immutability (read sanctity) of film and all the reliability that simple fact conveys, i.e. immutable film equals immutable truth. Wrong. I believe this adherence to the ‘sanctity’ of film is misplaced.

There are many reasons why digital deserves its place alongside film – each argument alone enough to vanquish the reactionary instincts of film-addicted photographers.

As John Berger wrote in his 1972 essay, Photographs of Agony, the effect on us of seeing shocking images of war and suffering and the way we cope with them is key to understanding the so called ‘power of truth’ in the media. As Berger argues, the discomfit we feel when confronted with the sundry horrors recorded by photographers in the field as we butter our toast and sip our espressos is a deal we make as consumers of such stories with the media outlets that present them to us. Berger points out that the violence we see in these pictures shock us, not into action, but is more likely to render us immobile because the established structure of western democracy means we feel fatalistically unable to put our repulsion into action. So we swallow hard and push the awful images to the back of our minds and carry on.

News carriers can safely publish unsettling pictures because their establishment-supporting proprietors know (for the most part) we will not be moved to revolt by them. No matter how good these pictures are and on what format they originated there are other very powerful factors in the dissemination of images that render the tired mutable/immutable argument irrelevant. Despite this futility the contract between viewer and publisher remains complex; how much more credibility is placed on a picture shown on the BBC website over the same image printed in the Sunday Sport? How we attribute ‘truth’ to a series of images is as much about how that story is delivered as it is about how much of our own experience we bring to the story and what degree of ‘truth’ we consequently ascribe to it.

In 2012 I wrote a piece about the beauty of organic film called ‘Continuous Change’. There’s not a word I wrote then that I don’t stand by now  but my thinking has developed. Like many people of my age I have an appreciation of both film and digital. This is a bother because I know I can use either so the decision as to which hangs over every new project. I am respectful of some photographers, such as Jocelyn Bain Hogg, who still shoot almost everything on film and love the work of some others (Chris Steele Perkins, Harry Gruyeart and the late, great Saul Leiter amongst many others) who have all have used digital cameras despite having started their careers using film. Aesthetic purpose may have some baring on which technology these photographers choose.  Some may place digital’s ease of use above film’s ‘quality’. But a good photograph is a good photograph whatever the medium. The question of origination is interesting, in aesthetic terms, only as a relative comparator or detail – not as a fundamental arbitrator between validity and invalidity.

Aesthetics are a subplot to the main story. McCullin is concerned with the truth and nothing but the truth and any photograph that can’t be relied on for such purposes is not worth the chip it is stored on he might argue. So we must revisit McCullin’s actual words to understand what is at stake here. He said “digital photography is a lying medium”.  So what he is saying is that of the two media; film and digital, the former is truer (less mutable) than the latter and, therefore, in questions of veracity film must win out over digital. Judgement made. End of story.

But is it?

Is it not, perhaps, just a tiny bit arrogant to say that the means of image production which coincided with your life is the only one worth investing in and caring about? Isn’t it the most incredible coincidence that in the 4.3 billion years of Earth’s history, not to mention the preceding 9+ billion years of the universe and then, say, the last 200,000 years of human development that a period of some 150 years between 1839 and 2000 would take place the ONLY useful period EVER in the production of images through light sensitive reception layers and lenses? And further, does it strike you as arrogant to say that every image captured beyond this infinitesimally tiny gap in space-time will carry less weight and be less beautiful/useful/truthful ad infinitum?  For old photographers to claim that film outweighs digital in matters of integrity and aesthetics is appallingly arrogant.

Is it possible that photography has died with film – that photography equals film and therefore the former cannot exist without the latter? Of course not.

In many ways I think we’ve lost something in digital that we never considered important in film.

The list of the positive attributes of film might include:

  1. Consideration. When you only had 36 exposures on a roll you had to make them count.
  2. Time. Time spent apart from the images you’ve just shot makes for less contrivance (no chimping) and better editing later (the greater perspective of time).
  3. Spontaneity. Because we couldn’t tell what was going on on the film we had just shot we would have to hope for the best. Until the film was developed we would inhabit the world of Schroedinger’s Cat being simultaneously the greatest living photographer and the worst living photographer. This lack of control produced a more dangerous feeling to capturing the moment and produced a more instinctive reaction (perhaps).

The list of things that are good about digi might include:

  1. Consideration. We are able to lose ourselves in the moment of a shoot because we don’t have to worry about changing rolls of film or limited ISO. We can move more fluidly around the subject and the camera becomes even more effective as an extension of our subconscious.
  2. Time. We can work at any speed we choose according to mood, subject or opportunity. There is no physical preparation for a shoot and lighting is often optional. In this way we can shoot with consideration and attention to detail or blast away quickly, sending the images out in real time to clients or appreciative audiences all over the world instantly – or not as we choose.
  3. Spontaneity. My experience, aesthetic sense and curiosity lead me to take pictures.  Physical restrictions such as availability of film and relative darkness no longer apply.

The closest we can get to an ‘objective truth’ in an image is to ensure that what the originator (the photographer) was trying to say when he made the exposure is nurtured thorough all the various editorial processes in a way that reflects and honours the photographer’s original instinct . This ‘tussle’ with truth telling can be limited at the point of capture by factors such as; imagination, technical ability or the photographer’s own ability to read the situation in front of him and perceive where the heart of the story lies. What happens later in Lightroom or the hands of a picture editor can completely subvert the nature and subsequently the intended meaning, if any, of the original image. This is why when it comes to truth telling the only thing we can rely on is the photographer. Again, whether its digital or film makes absolutely no difference.

With this in mind  we should now consider the influence of an editor along the pathway from exposure to print. It is absolutely true that a manipulated image is undesirable when attempting to convey ‘as true’ an act recorded but, in truth, both film and digital are susceptible to the hand of wilful intention vis Stalin’s photographic censorship (NB this is not for us to consider here as it is concerned with political attitudes to ‘the photograph’ and truth has a different role to play here). To argue that one is better than the other is to ignore the fundamental ability of cameras to record the physical nature of a point in space and time. Neither format is impervious or above criticism so any move to claim superiority for either is spurious and wrong headed.

Lets consider the shot of Phan Thi Kim Phuc (aka the Napalm Girl) by Nick Ut. Compare the two images below and you will see both the classic ‘authorised’ version and the full, uncropped frame. The full image reveals a photographer (perhaps Burnett) calmly reloading film into his camera as chaos and suffering surround him. I make no judgement of the photographer but the fact remains that this image has been cropped to tell one story while the full frame tells another.

We have no idea what the conditions were like at the time of exposure and we are all implicated in the lazy acceptance that what is purported to be the truth is, in fact, such. We should ask ourselves at what point the ‘truth’ becomes locked into a picture; at exposure? At printing? In Lightroom? Objective truth does not exist at any stage in the process. A photograph has only the veracity which we, the viewers give it. Despite the simplicity of the alteration of ‘Napalm Girl’ – it is only cropped after all – film is just as mutable as digi. Its only that film has a physical base that leads us to value its inherent truth but in the hands of the master manipulator film and digi have the same plasticity.

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Before continuing it would be good to put another trope to bed – for good. That is to say that film is more truthful because (as alluded to above) it is a physical object and therefore the film grain tells an immutable story. Conversely digital is a conditional array of pixels which can be moved with impunity. It is ‘easier’ (good skills are still required) to move elements around, clone and comp a digital image but the same can be said of film – it just takes a little longer. Beyond that we are still reliant on all the conditions already laid out elsewhere in this essay for the original image to be a faithful representation of an event.

NOTE IF you’d like to see a trite collection of manipulated film images click here.

The semblance of truth of a photograph occurs only when certain qualities or criteria are perceived to align:

  1. source – where did the image originate/who shot it?
  2. means of diffusion – who is claiming it to be a record of the truth?
  3. who is perceiving the image – are they/you reliably experienced to weigh the balance of probabilities and estimate the truthfulness of an image?

These three criteria will apply whether the photograph originated on film or digital and all three are dependant on our own investment  of what we hold to be true much as it is in other areas of our lives where matters of trust require an element of blind faith.

Old habits are said to die hard. In my own attitude to film I find some very persistent inclinations pertaining to its aesthetics but in reality I know, as a printer of many other people’s work, that this reactionary inclination to film as the medium of inalienable beauty is often misplaced. McCullin is suffering from the reactionary inclinations of someone whose love of their medium is built up over half a century. It is a remnant of previous necessity that today looks more like blind faith. It is human to love something so familiar. But change is inevitable and no amount of prevarication and justification will avoid this. At some point we need to grasp the new – not for its ‘newness’ but for the improvements it brings. Writing an essay like this is my way of understanding all the benefits of what went before and what we have to gain from adapting to the ‘new’.

Change is a matter of fact. The second law of Thermodynamics confirms this – change is the key of life. The move away from film to another medium is inevitable – to argue that film should be the sole carrier of the message is Canutian in its futility. Whether shooting on digital or film the only important thing is that sole agency be given to the photographer. This union of human and machine is where beauty and truth are created. Truth watches on, hoping for its moment in the sun, not caring one grain or pixel how its message is carried so long as it eventually arrives intact and intelligently consumed.

Alex Schneideman, December 2015, London

Off the Shelf – A Day Off, Tony Ray Jones

A DAY OFF by Tony Ray Jones, published by Thames and Hudson, London 1974

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In trying to write about this important book that, arguably,  gave British photography a new ‘waypoint’ by which to set its progress, I have been through other people’s reviews and blogs in an attempt to rob, adapt and regurgitate any writing which sheds some new light on this revered work.

First up I found this bit of text by the novelist Mick Jackson from his essay for the exhibition of TRJ’s work ‘Only in England’ held in conjunction with Martin Parr at the Science Museum in 2013. This text sets the tone of the time and scene which these photographs depict.

Here they come. The bloody English… in their Zephyrs, Wolseleys and Anglias. Off to their beauty pageants, caravan parks and penny arcades. Off on their day trips and annual marches. Off to watch the children’s parade. Off to their dog shows and fancy-dress competitions. To eat their buns under umbrellas. To sit in deckchairs in their suits and ties. Here they are… in their cardigans and V-neck sweaters, their trews and short-shorts. Boys, girls, mums and dads, grandmas and grandads – resolutely cheerful on their joyless holidays. Off to follow their peculiar little rituals. The Punch and Judy. The ballroom dancing. The morris dancing. The coach and boat trip. The grim little street markets. The freezing beaches.

I am a fan of Tony Ray Jones’s work because I love his pictures. He is a sensitive and compassionate photographer whose editing of his own work shows that he is a great a composer of images on a par with the greatest names from 20th century photojournalism. The exhibition mentioned above where TRJ’s work was compared and contrasted with the work of his contemporary Martin Parr exposed the surly hauteur of the latter’s work and underlined the warmth and directness of the former. This is just my view and this last paragraph is a merely a digression to set my ’emotional’ stall out.

The book is what we’re here to discuss. ‘A Day Off’ was published in 1974 posthumously by Thames and Hudson (Ray Jones died aged 30 in 1972) and for some the book does not do justice to the man’s amazing body of work achieved in so short a time. I’d like to give a credit to the essay by Kath Jackson Jones (see link below) in which she forensically criticises the ‘A Day Off’ for its sloppy layout and for the glaring omission of some key images. Not only that but the printing of the pictures is heavy handed whereas Tony Ray Jones was highly concerned with the quality of his prints and the layout of his work – for the surreal nature of the images the dynamic revealed in juxtaposition is essential to convey the full power of the images.

However, with these drawbacks acknowledged, it is still possible to view this book as important, not only, in establishing the work and reputation of Tony Ray Jones in an indelible fashion but also in steering British documentary photography in a new direction.

Since its publication many British documentary photographers have cited TRJ’s work as an essential building block in the development of their own work and style. From my personal experience as a printer working for many such photographers I have probably had more discussion about Ray Jones than any other and from this empirical evidence alone I can testify to the profound influence he has had on modern British photography.

‘A Day Off’ is a collection of images made for all the right reasons. These photographs were shot to fulfil the creative and enquiring desire of an English photographer with an eye for the surreal and the sad as well as the chaos and the dynamism of the British with some time on their hands.

EXTRAS

Here is a SloMo flick-through that I made of the first edition hardback and a few example images below that.
Note – my flick throughs don’t necessarily show every image but give you a very good idea of how the book looks, feels and fits together. Fullscreen it for best viewing.

Alex

London, June 2015

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LINKS TO OTHER INTERESTING TRJ INFO

Kath Jackson Jones’s blog critique of ‘A Day Off’

Tony Ray Jones on Wikipedia

Liz Jobey on Tony Ray Jones in the Guardian

Instagram, Facebook and Twitter Are Bad For Photography

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I am a hypocrite.

I sell individual prints and post single, unrelated images on Instagram. I do this partly because other people do it and I am not impervious to what other people do.  I also post to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook because I am vain and want you to ‘like’ my pictures. So you can see that, after reading  what I’ve written below, you will be able to call me a big, fat HYPOCRITE!

I think photographers need to commit to series of images and not splurge the odd ‘good’ shot on to the internet. This produces a never ending stream of second tier photography at best or a bilge of mediocrity at worst.  

The most wonderful work comes only from a commitment to a subject or theme. As I argue in this piece it is the long term development of a subject which produces the best, most captivating and informative photography and photographers should do their best to adhere to this standard because we risk undermining our own love and enthusiasm for the medium we have chosen to call our own.

Ever since we’ve been venerating the ‘decisive moment‘ we have developed a fetish for the one-off great shot. We marvel at the ‘punctum’ and the surrealism or the pathos and the dynamic of composition in a frame and, in this way, we all hope to achieve perfection in one sixtieth of a second. But the achievement of this photographic state of nirvana is a con that we’ve both sold ourselves and been sold by the media.

When the pictures by great photojournalists of the twentieth century such as Cartier Bresson, Weegee, Winogrand and Capa, became famous we commenced on a path towards the ‘divine truth of the individual shot’ but those photographers were not looking for the one great image when they shot what went on to become epoch defining photographs. These photographers were working on assignments and building up great numbers of images destined for newspapers and magazines whose purpose in publishing these pictures was to tell a story. A few of those images became iconic and we (those who are inspired by these shots) were bamboozled into believing that these great images’ true value was in their singularity. But many of those images were never meant to have been taken out of the context in which they were shot.

Indeed the legendary picture agency Magnum was set up by HCB, Robert Capa and George Rodger to mange their image rights in the dawning age of narrative picture gathering.

Many of Cartier Bresson’s most famous pictures were the product of news assignments or long personal journeys – this could not be further from the fantasy of photographers hanging around the street looking for the odd shot. There were photographers like Doisneau who famously staked out street corners in the hope of snapping something interesting and there may be many photographers who are looking to channel the spirit of Doisneau or Brassai or Meyerowitz  but I suspect that many of us have been duped into the idea that great images happen at random – the myth of the photographer who always carries a camera is the dominant creative impetus  in environmental or ‘street’ photography.

In the new digital era (which will last a lot longer than the age of film) we consume photography – one disparate shot after another. We ‘like’ each others photos on a singular basis without demanding a deeper or broader intellectual context almost as if we are popping Maltesers one after an other into our mouths. Ultimately this is unsatisfying and we will move on to other media leaving photography all the poorer for our departure.

I would like you to consider this; photography (especially in the digital era) is a medium by which we can tell a story through the making of still images and the careful editing of them. We are lucky to be alive at this time when the means to make and disseminate images is so cheap and easy. For the first time in history it is only the time and effort required to produce a compelling narrative photo story which is required. Editing and publishing is now effectively free.

We should break with our single shot fetish and embrace the deeper, more satisfying commitment that a photographer must make to the long form series of photographs which tell a story – a series of pictures which have a momentum of their own borne out by the power of the subject matter they portray.

Instagram is great but it renders single images instantly forgettable by the nature of its structure and the way we interface with it. I suggest we slow down and be more considered in both the way we show our work and the way we consume it. I’ll still use Instagram for those one off shots from time to time because its hard to be pure in a digitally toxic world!

But I will remind myself that the best pictures are the ones that bubble up out of the primordial soup of effort and commitment Why should I burden you, the viewer, with anything that is second best?

Alex, London 5/6/15

See below for some famous pictures all of which have been extracted by the media from their original context.

One of the famous images and instantly recognisable images from Cartier Bresson’s study of Russia.
One of the most famous images of all time – Robert Capa’s image of a fallen soldier taken during the Spanish Civil War.
One of Robert Frank’s most famous images from his book ‘Valencia’.
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‘Blackpool’ by Tony Ray Jones. This shot was included in A Day Off which was published by Thames and Hudson inn 1974.

 

The Dissection of a Wedding Party

I subscribe to a blog by my friend Derrick Knight, who plots daily life and never misses a day or a detail and it is fascinating – link below.

Recently Derrick posted a scan of an image of a wedding party taken in the 1920’s. He posted in such high resolution that I was able to copy it and make some ‘sub portraits’.

There is so much to be excited about here. Looking into the faces of those who have gone before is gives us a thrill that humans have only just been afforded. We can look at a great painted portrait and, as great a work of art as it may be, we are still looking at painted strokes. Whereas a photograph is a passive, objective record (obviously the is highly disputed by Barthes et al).

But lets say that a picture of a wedding group is about as objective as a photograph can get. Its intention being to record a group of people all together at one time – the camera here is a merely a recording device – not an interpreting device. One could argue that any other intentionality that could be attributed to the photographer, camera, or image is excluded by the intention – ergo the intention to record the group objectively and for posterity.

So, assuming that you agree with me – look into these faces from the recent past and marvel at how time just seems to melt as, simultaneously, we look into the faces of today. Filter out the scratchy quality and the outdated garb and what we can see is nothing other than the ghosts of ourselves.

It sends shivers down my spine.

 

 

 

 

 

http://derrickjknight.com/2015/03/04/revealing-the-ancestors/

http://derrickjknight.com

Off the Shelf – The Window of my Studio, Josef Sudek

 

The Window of my Studio, Josef Sudek, published by Torst 2007

This book I picked up at Sims Reed booksellers in London on a flyer. I knew some of the work of Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896 – 1976) but perhaps not as much as I should.

The whole is one of Sudek’s most important collection of photographs; the ones he made looking through the window of his studio. According to the preface by Anna Fárová the images represent a sort of metaphorical autobiography of Sudek in particular the views of a particular, deformed tree which reflected both Sudek’s spirit as he lived through the many phases of tyranny and war. The tree also also reflects his self image as a man who lost his right arm in World War 1 (from the ‘friendly fire’ of Austrian shrapnel).

The window pane and the texture of the window are equally important and constant motifs through the book. The textures of condensation, dirt and ice on the glass lending an important dimension to the images. Sudek spoke of a ‘mystery’ in the images, of a sense of ‘something around the corner’.


These are the notes I made as I went through the book for this post:

  • Prints are heavy and dense on the whole. To my mind this give an increased sense of claustrophobia, of being trapped.
  • Through the window we see monstrous forms which reminded me of Paul Nash’s ‘Monster Field
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