Saturday, January 27, 2007

2 Differing Photographs

Chulita made a very kind comment about the photos I took of the snow. She said that my camera and I "work well together". I thought about that a lot, because I agreed with her, i.e. that the camera I have suits me and I wondered why this was and why certain types of people suit certain cameras. This led me to wonder if there are definitively different sorts of photograph and perhaps they are linked to the people who shoot them. After rolling this around in my head I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of photograph, those that infinitely dilate a moment and those that capture an instant as it was experienced. I'll try and explain what I mean with a couple of examples:


originally uploaded by John Brownlow.

This photograph is of the first type. It pauses time forever and allows the eye to explore this instant at its leisure. It contains more detail than we could ever take in at the moment it was taken. It would take several minutes to peruse it properly and even then there'd be things we would miss. This photograph stops time and allows us to examine the moment very objectively.

Millennium Bridge

This photograph is also a snapshot of a moment, but it is captured as it was experienced, that is the moment presented here contains the information present to the photographer at the moment it was taken. It is a record of the moment not so much the physical objects that make it up. The image hits us as a whole and we do not gain more from prolonged observation, it captures what an eye at that moment could.

In order to take photographs of the first type you would need a camera of very high quality, probably a plate camera. I dearly love the work of photographers such as Stephen Shore who works exclusively on 10x8 film, the highest quality format practically available. For the longest time I tried to mimic his photographs, initially with my 35mm or medium format film cameras and latterly with a digital SLR. But I never captured what his photographs had. and that is the intricate detail that fascinates the eye in its richness. To put it another way, if you look at a Willem Kalf painting or a Caneletto, the delight is in the precision of the image. Your eye may wander about these images always finding something new. The photos I took on lower resolution cameras did not have this quality, they were incapable of resolving that kind of detail and thus they lacked the punch and accutance that I sought.

Having realised this I took to aiming to capture the moment as I perceived it. This was what these lightweight cameras were best at. I could easily have them with me and as something unfolded before my eyes I could could capture that instant as it appeared to me. This is inherently more subjective and puts the viewer inside the eye of the photographer, you the viewer see the instant as I, the photographer, saw it when it was captured. This subjectivity is what I believe leads to the greater critical debate over photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Juergen Teller than happens with the masters of larger-format photography such as Ansel Adams. The taste of the viewer is more easily placated by the higher quality image, there is simply more in it to draw you in, but if you find the aesthetic of a "capture the moment" unappealing there is little else in the image to keep you looking at it. However when you find a capture the moment photographer whose work does connect with you, that connection with the image is often stronger than the more remotely observed large-format image can be. It simply plugs directly into your brain and emotion. Josef Koudelka and Christopher Doyle's work does this for me.

I think, therefore, that there is a camera to suit all types; I favour smaller, more discrete cameras that enable me to capture moments as they occur, that may be of pretty high quality but not at the expense of portability and unobtrusive size. So, Chulita, that's why I think my camera and I are well suited, it is the right tool for the photographs I've come to realise I like to take best.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Churlita said...

I just need to find my perfect camera...And then find a trust fund so I can afford it.

2:09 am  
Blogger Mr Atrocity said...

Churlita, you must have expensive taste in cameras. The one I mostly use is currently going for an average of about $60 on eBay. It'a Canon Powershot S230 for anyone who's interested.

1:58 pm  

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