By popular demand. Henri Cartier-Bresson quote not found by me, but I readily confess my culpability in all other parts of the crime.
For anyone who doesn’t get it:
Photoshop need not be a sledgehammer; to give but one of thousands of examples: its computational power may be used to delicately nudge pixels of a certain value so that they cause their neighboring picture elements to be more apparent. If you are a photographer who practiced in decades past, you likely remember the procedure for rendering subtle qualities of tonality and texture: it involved floating a sheet of photosensitive paper in a tray of warm chemical fluid, and from time to time, poking it with a stick. We had control, but not that much control.
This post, and Bruce’s previous post, are an interesting way of looking at Photoshop as offering more subtlety than previous technology. Too much web discourse, still, is spent railing against tools themselves rather than the way they’re used. This is especially prevalent in photojournalismland where what the mere use of Photoshop currently outweighs the ethics of the situation.
So it’s nice to see posts like this focusing on subtlety judicious use of the tools available to us. Photoshop, BAD is not a useful message. How not to be heavy-handed is.
When I made those pictures, I knew nothing about photography. I found a wonderful book by Eugène Atget. He had photographed empty rooms and empty streets in Paris and I was stunned. So I would get out onto the streets early in the morning and take pictures. I called it my “five-finger exercise.”
All these rooms began to look like stage sets. I saw them as pure theatre. My classic example is the barbershop photo: the jacket hanging, the clock over the chair. I thought, well, this is a mise en scène. The man comes in, he puts on his barber costume, and he does his barber act. I began to see the empty streets or empty shops as theatrical backdrops. “Empty New York” is the beginning of me seeing everything as total theatre.
I have a new concept. I call it the “prose portrait.” A prose portrait doesn’t necessarily show you what someone looks like; it’s not a line-for-line reproduction of a face. A prose portrait tells you what the nature of the person is about. When I photographed Magritte, the portrait was made in the nature of Magritte. When I photographed Warhol, the portrait was in the character, the mystery—if there is one—of Warhol. You can’t capture someone, per se. How could you? The subject probably doesn’t even know who he (or she) is. So, for me, a prose portrait is about a person, rather than of a person.
Really like this interview. Really really like these two points about photos as theatrical backdrops and portraiture about the nature of the person.
The note about photos as theatrical backdrops in particular gives me some additional language to explain how ruin porn (among other photography genres) often fails.
And this is just flat-out good advice for any novice photographer too. If you’re photographing a place, give us a sense of how it’ll be populated, change., etc. If you’re photographing a person, make it about the person, not of the person.
Start with the snapshot. Start with the connection. Figure out why grandma cares about the subject and make that the keystone in a photograph. Then pile on the better gear, experience and technical tricks to make it a better damn photograph than grandma can take.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
The irony of dismissal via snapshot is that “snapshots” are almost always the most-posed and edited photos in the album. Seriously. Think about all the photos your parents, relatives, friends’ parents, etc. took of you. “Everybody get together. Smile. Stop screwing around! You too! Okay let me back up and get everyone in. On three. Okay, I think someone blinked, let me take another just to be safe. etc. etc.”
Aspiring to take meaningful and good family photos is all I truly care about in my photography. That this is somehow an inferior practice? Please. Those are the only photos most of us really care about.
I’ll always remember what one of my Anthropology TAs told us back in undergrad: “‘Ceremonial’ is a placeholder word for ‘we don’t know what the fuck is going on here.’”