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

Saul Leiter: the quintessential form

sometimes, luck strikes. for Saul Leiter himself, I am not sure, as he was dismissive of praise, but lucky for us, because it is the rare instances in art when a talent makes it through despite how they approached a road to fame. since Early Color was released in 2006, and now on its 6th printing, the embracing of Saul Leiter has been one of those rare moments of happiness in art that a deserved talent has a reach. we can realize this rise by noting how people have come to identify the indelible Leiter style: misty windows, big negative spaces, and more importantly, a big room for the imagination by cropping. (mind you, this is cropping by elements in the scene, and not some André Kertész style cropping of the negative.) aside from the obvious taste in composition and elements that have made Leiter such a favorite among many, it is the cropping that makes the biggest impression on me. below is, perhaps, my most favorite photo from him.

link: Gallery 51 (Antwerp), an early proponent of his work.

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by Saul Leiter from Early Color

what does the camera do?

fundamentally, photography is about freedom— there should not be any rules, as it is already difficult to work with the few decision-points in the journey. the recent book from Michael Kenna reminds me of such a decision-point: is one’s style (if we have one) to be ever dominant, and all cameras are just a tool? or, is the transition from one camera to another a chance to exploit the new medium as how one’s style (if we have one!) is affected? André Kertész notoriously would learn how a camera worked, and exploit it— most notoriously with The Polaroids series— and I am on this camp. the differences between a Hasselblad and a Holga could not be farther in terms of common cameras. yet, Kenna‘s Holga could have been much more interesting to me, rather than a continuation of his previous work with the acceptance of increased vignetting and some edge blurring.

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from Michael Kenna’s Holga book.