This year we will get a double race in Monaco, like every other year. First the GP Historique, and the the F1 Grand Prix. This is as usual turning the whole city upside down for three months, as it takes six weeks to set up the track, tribunes and teams, and a month to wind it down. In the middle, there will be a 2 week break between the weekends of 11th and 25th of May. The old car race is my preferred, particularly the category C of sports cars from the early fifties, where the utmost beauties are Jaguar, Aston Martin and Frazer Nash prototypes.
August Sander is one of giants of photography. Don’t look for his name though, under dramatic photos of war, important events, fashion, portraits of famous people or travel. He has invented a particular type of documentary photography, in which he strived to show the “truth” about people of his time.
The idea was to show human “archetypes”, in order to convey for posterity how people from a given social group or profession looked like. I don’t think Sander succeeded in that, but he did something more important – showed us real flesh and blood individuals, each uniquely different, yet forming a mosaic that would eventually produce a remarkable picture of that historic period, and demonstrate how a mindful photographic project could enrich our culture.
I would definitely like to shoot more portraits, and always do that whenever I get an opportunity. Frequently, people avoid a chance of getting their photo taken, for fear of not appearing at their best. Experience is telling me, it’s always better to insist on making photographs, and then if a more appropriate chance comes up, make some more. You can always eliminate the less fortunate frames, but you cannot rewind time.
I took the above shot on my way to the hairdresser. It would have been nicer from the front, but perhaps these young ladies could have objected to having their faces put on a blog. They represent a part of Monaco’s scenery, that I’d call “Young girls on a mission”. Certainly, they also make part of the caleidoscope of “people of this century”. I must say, I admire them greatly for the ability to walk in these stratospheric high heel shoes.
Today we’ve had a brilliant summer day down here, with temperatures above 25C and the beaches packed with people. Nice has been literally invaded by tourists – I believe the combination of Italian, British and even Polish long weekends has taken its toll. Meantime, I’ve noticed that I have finally gotten to the end of photos dated 2013 on my waiting list for posting. It has been a good year, photographically speaking.
I was watching a weekly political talk show yesterday evening: “Virus”, on the Italian RAI 2, and as usual the program ended with an interview. This time, the guest was Giovanni Gastel, presented as the greatest Italian fashion photographer. I’m not really much into fashion, and am not too fond of colour photography either, but Gastel certainly is a lively creative figure. He said something quite obvious, but worth remembering: when you are making a photograph, you must raise above banality, discarding the first three or four “instinctive” ideas on how to shoot whatever you are setting to do. The instinctive ideas hold us slaves to collective cliche’s, and to how we THINK things should look like. To show something interesting, you need to work more, experiment, elaborate. He says, he usually begins with a “working” shot, and then tries to develop the idea to the point he likes it enough. That’s a strong endorsement of today’s immediacy made available cheaply by digital.
The sea has some hypnotic properties. You can look at it every day, and it never gets boring. During the winter season here, you can also experience frequent changes of light which add to the continuous visual variability. Sometimes the light is simply flat.
Other days I get lucky, and find a combination of dancing light and something going on the surface. This time it was an aggregation of yachts attracted by some Monaco event.
Things get more interesting, if you can spot some graphic element to complete the light showers effect.
If you are patient and prepared, sooner or later you can nail a confluence of light, time and space. This is a decisive moment of landscape photography.
I like this image of the first bather in an empty sea. It invokes in me the feeling of serenity, seems almost like someone performing his daily routine of meditation. This was likely taken around the beginning of December, but the water temperature at the time was still bearable – probably around 17 C.
Henri Cartier Bresson, and his decisive moment photography are usually associated with the idea, that this particular type of work is heavily dependent on timing. In reality, unless you work with still life objects, timing is always extremely important. HCB used to say, that you have to be sensitive to seize the opportunity. He shot a lot – there are stories narrating that he made around twenty films a day, when actively working. However, he underscored the need to shoot mindfully, and not simply machine gun a scene, as he said, that if you overdo it, the right moment is likely to happen when you were winding the camera. An acute observer might note, that it must have been before the advent of motor winders – in fact, when I want to shoot the street with a Leica, I have the motorised baseplate attached.
Timing is critical whenever the scene evolves. This applies to reportage, sports, portraiture, fashion and even to landscape. In the early days of photography, the time necessary to set up a camera and expose a plate has been so long, that it was almost always a race against the changing light, not to mention moving subjects. In my opinion, the real champions of speed have been the likes of Ansel Adams.
Another giant of reportage – Gianni Berengo Gardin, used to say, that the difference between a good photograph and a nothing, was often infinitesimal. This is totally true, and you can have a peek into it by looking through occasional books which show contact sheets of great photographers – most of the shots on them look as if they were taken by one of us…
This is also a title of a known film with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, but here the association has rather been with this surprising view I run into on my way to office. The ladies never fail to perform multitasking whenever possible – here they stretch and inhale the sea breeze, while admiring the view on Roquebrune and Cap Martin. BTW, one of them is also talking on her mobile at the same time.
I’ve spotted this somewhat melancholic lady in one of little Nice restaurants I like to drop in on the weekends. It’s called “Attimi” and it serves a nice range of quick Italian specialties, ranging from various types of focaccia, through pizza, pasta, salads and second courses. All made with genuine and selected Italian ingredients – highly recommended for a simple meal. You will find it at the end of Avenue Jean Medecin, where the tram turns into Avenue Felix Faure.
One typical impulse I find myself possessing, is the urge to take photos of characters. The characters are people like us, but in one way or another they seem to have some unusual or exaggerated tract. Even in areas like the south of France, where you find a broad diversity of human types, the overwhelming code of conduct, typical of continental Europe, is quite homogenous, unlike in truly unregulated multi ethnic metropolis like London or New York.
The first reaction to a character is usually a dose of disbelief mixed with a feeling of ridicule or contempt. It should be instead noted, that the characters are a very interesting part of society. They are what the statisticians call ” the wings of a distribution”, i.e. they represent a small percentage of cases that bear some extreme features. From the study of these special cases, one can learn a lot about how wide is the range of strategies available to us to go through life.
From a tribal point of view, we instinctively like to cling to people who are similar to us. While this can generate strong collective bonds, and was usually a prime condition for coexistence in a small hunter-gatherer group of individuals, as society and its problems become bigger, the diversity becomes an important resource. I’ve even seen lately an article how the Good Judgment Project makes part of the CIA toolbox for predicting future threats. The use of a collective wisdom of a well diversified and heterogeneous group of individuals, seems to perform better than conventional intelligence procedures. This counterintuitive fact finds it’s roots in an old model, which has become the basis for what we call today the prediction markets. Eventually, society needs not only the sheep, but also the peacocks.
I’m not sure, if curiosity and tolerance versus people different from us is something that intensifies with age – it certainly is happening in my case. Perhaps the reason being, that as you accumulate experiences and find yourself at hard edges of choices in life, like in a maze of a lattice tree, you start appreciating how little can separate outcomes, that eventually become extremely distant. I vividly remember a story told by a friend who was a chief FX dealer of Chase Manhattan Bank in Milan. He went once to Paris for an international Forex congress, and while he was strolling along the river Seine, he spotted a clochard sitting along the bank with a bottle of wine in hand. On a second impression, the face seemed familiar, so he stopped a moment, and exclaimed – are you Serge? (Serge used to be the chief dealer of Chase Manhattan Bank Paris). The clochard giggled and said: yes ! My friend said: but Serge, what happened, how come you are in this condition? The clochard bowed his head philosophically and said: do you remember that moment, when the Berlin wall fell, and initially it seemed like the Deutsche Mark was going to go down the drain because of the cost of unification?
– Yes !
– So I shorted heavily the DM, and then the Bundesbank came out and said they will never allow inflation to happen, and opposed changing the east DM into western ones at par, and my position started getting sour, even if the government has eventually bowed to the 1:1 exchange rate.
– So, when I was several million under water, it was already a loss I was not supposed to take, and at this point I told myself: “Serge, this is the moment of truth, you have to double – either you’ll make it, or you’ll break it”.
– And I broke it… And here I am with a bottle along the Seine…