Walking the streets in search of a shot is a revealing process. You react to things that attract your attention and click the shutter, hoping for an interesting image. Then, after some time in the quiet of your home or studio, you look at what has been captured, and frankly, most of the time, wonder what the heck prompted you to waste a piece of film. This is the academy of photography in practice: learning what really looks good on a print. Funny faces are instinctively appealing, so I also tend to collect some of these over time.
Then there can be various types of funny, from simply a subconscious give away of an instant emotion, to a purposeful pose. The master of capturing these scenes full of humour is undoubtedly Elliot Erwitt (BTW, he is still alive and well…)- if you chance to find his book “Snaps” or “Personal best” they are a treat.
The first rays of sun raising behind Italy are illuminating strangely shaped clouds over the sea in front of the Larvotto beach. There is a storm of birds flying by, although a slow shutter has blurred their silhouettes somewhat. Two facts come to my mind: the Earth is not flat (if it were, I could see the sun in the frame), and also, we are nearing the change of season.
While the first fact is hardly a discovery, I’ve recently learned, that among various unhelpful human beliefs pervasively present among us, the belief in a flat Earth is still alive and kicking. The society which gathers these brave proselytes even has a neat internet site.
The change of season takes place twice a year in Monaco, in the middle of May and November. Spring gently warms into summer, and then cools back into spring again. Although you can get some near zero temperatures at night once every several years in January or February, it is not common. Last spring (November 2013-May 2014) I don’t recall to have seen anything below +12 C in the morning on the thermometer outside my kitchen window. On a personal level I mark the passage of the seasons by changing my basic attire. Now, long trousers give way to shorts. This is an additional and welcome step in my journey towards personal freedom, particularly appreciated after some thirty years of going to work in a suit and tie.
This year, I’ve promised myself to improve my freestyle. I need to do more exercise, and swimming is ideal for people getting older, but one has to practice one of the styles that do not strain your back. The sea down here, particularly in the mornings, is usually crystal clear, and the sensation you get when you see flocks of little fish dancing around you in the water in early light is truly exhilarating.
One of the few photographic drawbacks of the summer on Cote d’Azur, is that rain is uncommon, therefore blue skies render landscape photography more difficult. I guess, there are ways to compensate this by shooting other subjects…
For a reason difficult to comprehend, this photo makes my mind wander towards the iconic portrait of Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman. You could be puzzled – so am I. Perhaps the link is in the outline of the wall against the sea, reminiscent of a shape of a grand piano, and the rhythmic declination of the stairs lends itself to a parallel with a keyboard. I like this image, as it combines the structure of line and chiaroscuro with an open view of the sea, where you eye can rest in peaceful contemplation.
I made this image once, in an exercise aiming at getting some feedback about how much effort it takes to make a masterpiece. The obvious conclusion is: it takes a lot, and the simpler the object the more difficult it is to make it appear both natural and interesting at the same time. The unexpected twist of this experiment has been, that I am unable to establish anymore which way the plate was positioned on the table. It appears not to want to stand still, to float in space.
This is another shot made some time ago, which I’ve only edited recently. It wasn’t so easy to perceive it’s surreal quality immediately. One of the few tendencies that in my opinion are disputable in Monaco, is a certain fondness for ugly modern art.
I have initially discarded this photograph, and it popped up at me again when I was reviewing the most interesting frames of last years. The theme of blur, or soft edge, will be coming up more frequently in my shots in the future. The more we know about ourselves, the more difficult it becomes to define anything in a clear cut way.
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.