So far, the themes of these blog entries have been dictated by the order of the photographs that I’ve been fishing out of my “marinating keg”, which is a folder on my computer. I knew that this strategy had a limited horizon, because it’s not that I take photographs of an infinite range of subjects. Some single shots have inevitably also started accumulating in solitude, as I could not immediately tie them to others of similar kind. This has prompted me to begin the “Single Shot” series, which will be a handy way to keep this blog alive without a need for me to become a permanent story teller.
This shot, taken from my office window, originated during one of last winter’s mornings right after sunrise. It was a sudden strike of light, and it gave an immediate touch of life to that gray beginning of the day.
Here’s a great piece which helps to illustrate the feeling. I particularly enjoy the arrangement and Georg Mraz on the double bass.
Children are a great photographic subject. It’s not only because we love them, and because our sense of beauty is modeled on basis of child like facial features. The main reasons are that children are at the same time full of energy and very poor at self control.
While the high energy level is typical of most young mammals, and reflect the need to learn through play, the lack of self control has more to do with the peculiar cognitive evolution of our human species. I have read somewhere, that our brains develop full self control capacity only around the age of 30, and particularly the young boys tend to be very poor at it. This brings some interesting conclusions, like the scientific confirmation of the idea to avoid punishment based upbringing in favour of reinforcement of desired behaviours through rewards. It is not a fear of punishment ( because of the lack of sufficient self -control ) that will block improper behaviour, it is more likely that we can induce desired behaviours through positive feedback instead.
There is also a great lesson that we, photographers can try to learn from kids: their unadulterated vision of the world. The older we get, the more our visual perception is a construct of cultural experience. This has been neatly summarized by Andersen in his famous fairy tale ” The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Only a child could see the obvious truth, and express this freely. Picasso has famously said: ” When I was young, I could draw like Raphael. But it has taken me my whole life to learn to draw like a child.”
Children like to break the rules and simplify the complicated. Why should one use the stairs, if it’s possible to jump? They are also great at showing raw emotions, which of course makes them very photogenic. I have noticed something else as well, although I could not claim it is a scientific fact: when they are happy at play, the boys prefer to do it with the fathers and the girls with the mothers. When they are in distress and look to cling for comfort, the reverse applies. So your preference for the sex of your child could vary depending if you are more looking for a game buddy or intimate friend.
We are inextricably immersed in regular rhythms. Days and nights, beats of our hearts, regularly spaced telegraph poles, stripes on zebra crossings, not to mention the music, most of which today is heavily rhythmical.
Humans, and human photographers in particular, are virtual pattern recognition machines. What most people don’t understand, is that we don’t “see” with our eyes, but with our brains, that reconstruct “raw” images received through the retina, and give us an output that we make sense of. In a way, you tend to see, what you expect to see, thus rhythm and symmetry are two particularly important concepts that we use subconsciously to our advantage, in order to organize visual information.
The popularity of striped garments in fashion is relatively recent. In Medieval times, only prisoners clowns and prostitutes used to wear them, as the pattern was seen as being “evil”. Apparently it was Queen Victoria in 1846, who has broken the spell by clothing her 4 year old son, Albert Edward in a striped sailor shirt to board the Royal Yacht. The style has caught on, with sailor like uniforms for kids becoming widely popular, and subsequently got extended to bathing suits. In 1917 Coco Chanel has introduced stripes to fashion through her nautical collection, but she has been inspired directly by the Breton stripes.
I always am on a lookout for some visual order, and if anything, you need to be careful not to overdo it, because still perfection tends to get boring quickly. A good rule of thumb, is to combine the diversity of life with some underlying visual harmony for an additive effect.
It’s quite striking how many people with dogs you see around here, in the south of France. Perhaps mainly because of tradition, and in part because there are many elderly who like to keep one. The multi child family model also helps, because once you grow two or three kids, an addition of a small dog doesn’t make a lot of difference to your lifestyle…
Walking your dog is a great duty – ritual, particularly pleasant if the weather is fine, which is usually the case on Cote d’Azur.
It helps you socialize and enjoy life in the open air.
At times I can’t help thinking that some people go out just to show off their favourite canine friends.
But the nicest scenes happen, when you see the owners and their dogs behave, as if they were having romance.
How many pictures of people in the street can one take? – Many.
Gary Winogrand, the famous American street photographer used to shoot several hours a day. When he died, he left several million negatives, several thousand of which not yet developed, and that was long before the invention of digital and 12fps cameras.
At a certain point though, anybody will get tired with typical poses and straight verticals. You need to animate the scene somewhat. Wide angle lenses and instinctive framing create some dynamism and more unexpected points of view.
I’ve noticed, that you can use the verticals to your advantage, also when you want to convey an alternative notion of mass, with people climbing with difficulty or rolling down with ease.
If you spot kids playing, they look ready to fly.
The liberated diagonals can quickly become a canon in their own way, and start looking like a classic. Unlike free jazz or modern paintings, they still retain order and structure. Perhaps it would take a collage, photo montage or simply a Photo Shop manipulation to deprive a photograph completely of its original substance. I prefer to work on what I can obtain on the negative through experimentation with lenses, framing and exposure techniques.
Over the last several days we have seen substantial drama and confusion going on in Ukraine. While the perceptions about who is right or wrong, what is legitimate or not and how relevant this is to you, will vary, I feel most commentators are missing the essential point: what does this mean to humanity?
Humanity? Who is: “humanity”?
– Humanity is us, the people.
If you embrace the concept of life as a journey among countries, cultures and languages, and top it up with some fondness for lifelong learning, it is easy to develop an attitude towards the world, which I would call a min-max dichotomy. It means, that you tend to look at human problems on the lowest and largest scale at the same time.
The problems need to be addressed on these scales as well. Any macroscopic development affecting the lives of people, needs to be placed in the context, of how well it fits in the vision of the world becoming a united, friendly homeland for all of us. These macroscopic events bear on each individual in a different way, and the personal problems have to be solved using a balanced contextual assessment and judgment.
In my perception, Ukraine’s events are mainly interesting for one reason: it looks like at least to some degree, people there have gotten fed up with a state based on kleptocracy. It is yet to be seen what will come out of it, but one cannot help thinking that Putin’s nervous reaction to events could have been caused by a perceived geopolitical threat from losing control over the southern flank of his empire, as much as by a realization, that Maidan’s scenario could be replayed soon on the Kremlin square.
Perhaps instead of debating if a region of the world should have this or that flag waiving above its parliament building, wouldn’t it be a more intelligent question to ask : how does this matter to us, the people?
As scenes from the Russian take over of the Crimea were shown on CNBC, a journalist commented: we, in America are outraged at income inequality here. I looked up the numbers: richest 50 Americans make 4% of GDP. In Russia this number is 17%, in Ukraine it is 47%. Then I have also found this figure quoted: richest 100 Ukrainian oligarchs plus the Yanukowycz “family” were making for 80% of GDP.
At this point some of you might wonder, if by any chance I might be an advocate of equality at all costs ( communism, collectivization, etc). Not in the least, but if our ultimate goal is both to make people happier and more productive, it has to be done in a context of a society, which is inclusive and cares about developing our human potential. Extractive social models and high inequality are socially unjustified and economically wasteful.
While you might look different from the gentleman on the photo above, or have nothing to do with Crimean Tartars, we are all biologically remarkably equal. There is no reason to exchange our rights to life, health, education and pursuit of happiness for any nationalistic or religious notion, served by populist politicians, who attempt to play on our primordial emotions in order to divide, manipulate and exploit us easier.
After the revolt of Spartacus against slavery, French revolution borne out of defiance of the divine right, and the Bolshevik revolution carried out on behalf of the proletariat, perhaps finally a time has come to call for revolt against any power, which does not stand up to a test of respect for ALL the people it governs.
My photo shoot routine is mainly revolving around weekend strolls in Nice or other localities close to Monaco. These are some of the most densely populated areas in Europe. Highly evolved civilization, beautiful landscape, warm sea and the most glamourous city-state in the world conspire for a mixture conducive to attracting multitude of people to this notable “Joie de vivre” experience.
Yet, solitude is always present. You notice it, because it is unnatural. The essence of our species, is not only that we are social animals, but that we live in collective “imagined realities”, where we interact for mutual benefit. Social interaction has to be dosed just right.
Excessive overcrowding can lead to conflict, excessive solitude to depression. Both shorten our lives. In particular, longevity is, among other factors, linked to maintaining a good social network, although I have read somewhere, that even as little as a single 20 minute conversation per month with someone you like and trust, can make a huge difference to your well being.
Women tend to live longer, and apparently it is because of their different hormonal functioning. But what if their real secret is, that they gossip so often?
Just like we tend to categorize easily other people on basis of their physical features, dress or language, we also do that on basis of their behaviour. Taking pictures of people taking pictures is instinctive and has its appeal .
It is normally easier to catch people unaware, when they are concentrated on doing something which commands all their attention. Nowadays, we are almost back full circle to the times, when field cameras with their big ground glass needed to be set up on a tripod, and black cloth over the head of a photographer was isolating him from the outside light, so that he could focus and frame correctly. I am actually surprised, that nobody sells this type of cloth as an accessory for the Ipads.
All the small sensor cameras have also made the “selfies” much easier and more popular, as the almost infinite depth of field helps to place everything in focus, including the shooter, and he can often control the framing by looking at the image as it forms on screen. Thus, the environment probably benefits, as we see less of these incisions : “Joe was here”, made with a pocket knife on monuments, benches or trees. On the other hand, a new way of thinking is emerging, in which making a “selfie” in close proximity of something/someone of value or interest, should somehow elevate the status of the shooter through an implied mechanism of osmosis.
The French have a happy relationship with street music: street performers are numerous, there are also lots of open air festivals, performances and parades with participation of municipal bands. A particularly nice event takes place on the anniversary of WWII liberation day, when open military Jeeps from the times of war exit from the cover of local barns, fill out with people dressed up in US Army uniforms, and roam around playing Glenn Miller tunes from the loudspeakers. It all usually ends in a great party involving large quantities of food, wine and jazz music.
Wartime and post-war jazz melodies get associated here with the joy of returning to peace and freedom, and are a kind of American heritage, which is well assimilated and accepted.