Alex Webb: « The Suffering of Light »

the appeal of Street Photography still alludes me, and while I truly admire some of the work/ideas from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï, I do not find much that captures my appreciation**, never mind the “I wish I could do that”. then there are two books from Alex Webb that hold my attention, and appreciate that Decisive Moment and/or the use of shadows. one such example is shown below, and example of the use of geometry and shadow at the link below, where everything is right… and what finally makes me connect with me is the hand in on the tree. the sails and other hands pointing seem to play on the tree, as other forms of limbs/leaves, and while there are other people in the frame, it is the hand that offers the biggest clue of a human essence. I think that moment, and all else about the photo, which makes it quite brilliant. it was hard to choose one photo, as with his book on Mexico called « La Calle ».

 

** yes, Saul Leiter is definitely street photography, and my favorite photographer, yet with him, the street is a canvas, not so much within what Street Photography usually conveys with the luminaries in the field.

 

link: Alex Webb at Magnum Photo, with 120 sample images from The Suffering of Light.

 

HAITI. Etroits, La Gonave. 1986.
HAITI. Etroits, La Gonave. 1986 by Alex Webb

Czech Photographers: Jaromír Funke

at least the way that I manage to find out about photographers, the Czech contingency is quite the blind spot. luckily, because of first discovering Josef Sudek, and the instant connection it made with me, then I was suggested to look at the work of Jaromír Funke. surely, there is a feeling of German Expressionism to his work, mainly through the work of light and shadows in his still life. though I think the resulting “flattened” perspective of the resulting image has me thinking of Italian Futurism— as the lines in the photo below demonstrate. while his books/work are not easy to find, thanks to the reissues and/or retrospectives, his book Between Construction and Emotion is a favorite one in my collection. I also love this aspect about his short life: « He studied medicine, law, and philosophy at the Charles University in Prague and the University of Bratislava but did not graduate and instead turned to photography. » perhaps a projection of a wish for my life’s path.

links: Between Construction and Emotion (at ArtBook) & Jaroslav Rössler‘s Czech Avant-Garde Photographer (at AbeBooks). a photo gallery and noting the exhibit now in Frankfurt (at L’œil de la Photographie)

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by Jaromir Funke

shadows in portraits

one advent of digital photography, mainly as shared online, seems to indicate a love for no-shadows photography. this is also very apparent in the candy-coloured photographs found in modern «New Topographics». yet, obviously,  shadows can be embraced and forget about “expose for the shadows” suggestions. one classic example of embracing the shadows right away is the cinematography in The Godfather, which begat the nickname for Gordon Willis as “the prince of darkness”. (the nice anecdote is that, during the remastering of the film, they could not make them brighter for modern tastes because there is nothing in the shadows.) I have personally started to embrace the shape of shadows in the photos I take, and eventually will bring it into portraiture with purpose, versus accident/cliché. as a nice example, there is the work from Marina Lovato, and others will follow.

links: Marina Lovato on flickr and Instagram.

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by Marina Lovato [ flickr ]

portraits: people as lyrics to a song

there are so many ways to take a portrait: fill the frame, or face on center, and they can all be the best way to photograph the sitter. yes, photography should not have a formula, and just have a sense of the sitter and a language that each composition provides. Richard Avedon worked with a few approaches to this, in addition to lens distortions. a preferred method, for me and what I appreciate in others, is for the sitter to be off-center. in this way, I must admit, the sitter is the last selection for the photograph, and the scene (to conform to a desired geometry at play) comes first. an equivalence I like to convey is to a song: the instrumental part is composed first, and it must work as an instrumental, and then one adds the lyrics to suit the instrumental version. in movies, this approach was exceedingly good, and done very often, in Ida. (as best as I can discern, the opposite approach would have been most frame compositions in Yasujirō Ozu‘s movies, and Richard Avedon (again) with his white background. in this “off-center + the sitter comes in last” composition, there is a bit of danger: who is the protagonist? the background or the person? what has been done to the portrait by (most likely) cropping parts of the person out?

link: some of my experiments can be viewed at liminaleye‘s selection of the Incidental Interiors series.

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by cinematographer Lukasz Zal
(actress Agata Trzebuchowska)
from the movie «Ida»

Deborah Turbeville & subversiveness via integration

like many industries, it is difficult to accept changes n fashion photography. yes, fashion is about quarterly/yearly changes to the clothes, though we can see that fashion photography was pretty stale for many years— and that stale view can still be found today. it seems that that Deborah Turbeville was not a fan of the fashion world, still, it may have been this disdain that propelled her to be subversive, in a way, with her photographic work within that industry. « It is the psychological tone and mood that I work for… », she said, and thus it is not only a “lo-fi” approach to otherwise saturated/sharp (and stale) fashion work that was subversive, but also what the fashion photograph should convey: as if she wanted to integrate the scene, and not just differentiate the clothes. in my view, an integrative view of composition and presentation can produce a stronger work, rather than concentrating on equipment and photographic rules/clichés (such as “rules of thirds”, sharpness, small or large DoF gimmickry, and the fads in post-processing). Deborah Turbeville took an assault on fashion photography norms from many different angles which reverberate through today.

info: her fashion photography has been compiled onto the book The Fashion Photographs. for a look at integration versus elimination (differentiation), the article from Malcom Gladwell, for The New Yorker, on the advertising targeting via psychological integration vs differentiation classification can be found at [ summary ]

link: 14 photographs at Last Shot: DT, and an interview with DT on her last book.

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by Deborah Turbeville

Sibylle Bergemann & Polaroids

there seems to be a flood of Polaroid books in recent years, and I personally, have been lowering my threshold of what is a good book to buy. it is not a “pass”, rather, it has to do with an attempt to understand a distortion/transformation (or two). that is, there is the transformation that Polaroids shifts in color relative to the real world, and there is the transformation on the photographer/subject by using the Polaroid equipment. among the early books, themed on Polaroids, that I obtained was from Sibylle Bergemann. I watched the video-review (by Jörg Coldberg), and was hooked— and no, it didn’t require for me to lower my threshold on photo books that I would own. I am glad to see that more of her work is being given a book release, as her talent, demonstrated in The Polaroids, gets an immediate spark of interest on how she saw the world. further to this interest, and despite the fact that I have not taken that many Polaroid photos because I completely avoided it when the company was viable— heck, I even worked a summer at Polaroid near Boston and was not interested in the camera— then, it is strange how much it influences my perception of color in presenting a photo… and perhaps, if I get to understand the second transformation: what a portrait should convey.

link: more photos at Luz. an essay on Polaroids I wrote a few years ago:
« For the love of something absent: Polaroid Books »

© Sibylle Bergemann / Ostkreuz / LUZphoto

Sarah Moon & simplicity

one of my favorite mantras for photography comes from Albert Einstein: « make it simple, but no simpler ». it rings true, yet, in something as objective as mathematics, or even algorithm design, it is quite the challenge: there are no instructions. in the subjective field of photography, the liberty of seeking simplicity can lead to, not only good photographs, but also a discovery of how we see. a friend posted a quote from Sarah Moon:

« I spend my time eliminating things with the hope that there will be something left that will surprise me, that will make me forget I am in a studio, in front of a model I have booked, on a set on which I have spent hours fussing. »

and that is a characteristic to be loved about Sarah Moon, which sits atop the very alluring Polaroid work that she has done. approaching the snap of a photograph with her idea of simplicity is not very simple, and can lead to many photographs not being taken. however, the learning is gained, and subsequently to less clutter to process.

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by Sarah Moon