Following last week’s article on taking or making photos, I have more to add about those waiting in my mind’s eye. I am seeking them, or have planned them, but they have not yet become images for anyone else to see. And then there are those which I snatched from a split second of time, nice coincidences.
One is a set of bark trunks in a forest. The whole photo is just these trunks, with no space between them, though at the angle I find they might not be all crowded together. It’s a somewhat abstract image of black on white, stark. The trunks might all be in focus (if I use a small aperture to increase the depth of field; or if I stack several images from a tripod-mounted point, each with a different focus). Or they might show a narrower focus on one point. If I find this group of birches, I’ll probably take many different versions to compare.
Another waiting shot is one I’ve mentioned before: the tree version of a murmuration of birds, the leaves flying off the tree. This too will be from a tripod to keep the tree trunk still. The camera will take a succession of photos quickly, up to several per second, and then I’ll assemble them in a set of layers to show the progress of each leaf through the sky. This one I could also produce as a video, with the frames one after another showing the motion.
At the other end of the scale are images which I was fortunate to grab from something happening before or around me. The best example I have of this rare and tricky delight is shown here. I shot it at a communist demonstration in the 1990s in St Petersburg, Russia, at a war memorial. The thing which makes it for me is the juxtaposition of flags, unmoving metal sculpture and flapping in the breeze. Also the expression of the man holding the real flag. In my mind’s eye, as he looks up he’s thinking to himself: “Do I really believe this @#%$&?”
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master of this kind of image: street photography which pulls the moment from the time-stream and immortalizes it. Now, with billions of photographers around the world shooting on their phones or cameras millions of times a second 24/7, the snatched image has become more commonplace; along with every other kind of photography you can name. The real challenge is to stand out.
Which I don’t let bother me. I’m just going to shoot what I want to, what calls out to me for attention, what gives me pleasure. I’m always taking photos now, active in this field since I was 11, which is 45 years ago. And sometimes I even use a camera; if not, just my eye (click) and brain (store).
Recently, some artist friends and I were discussing the two modes of “open” and “closed”, which are mutually exclusive, as comedian John Cleese describes in a YouTube video on the subject. Open is playful, uncaring of mistakes, brainstorming, creative. Closed is editing, analyzing, considering what you’ve produced. Both are necessary. I realized for the first time that I don’t have to bring about the open mode for myself: it’s my natural state! On the contrary, I have to work to get to closed (although when I’m processing my photos on my computer I’m definitely in closed mode). My writing, specifically the Svan short stories I have produced in the last couple of years, is now going through editing with the help of another person, an outsider looking in from much further away than I am. More closed, to refine the open.
From the two photographic styles above, the imagined shot is closed until it happens, which makes it open. The grabbed shot is open until it’s taken, and then has a closed phase when it’s processed (as do all photos).
I suppose the ultimate part of closed for me would be turning my art into money, which is about as far from creative as I can imagine. Likely my wife will be much help in this, as she is much more business-minded than I am. At least I am seeing these two different parts of thinking, and how to reconcile and use them.