As a reminder, but also to accommodate complaints that overanalysis is worthless (sic), we will re-state the essential elements for evaluating a picture. Two in our case.
Context: Two photographers, 2 nationalities, 2 countries, the same sea.
Impact: Critical view on the society
Artist's intent: Provocation through irony
Composition: Active framing (the image starting at the edges and going inwards)
Technical quality: Well balanced hard light, hyper-focal sharpness
Expressive value: Contradiction and allusion suspending the realistic representation and initiating the questioning phase to the viewer.
PS: Is that all, you would rightly protest. Yes, because the rest of it lies inside each one of us and I can only talk for myself, which I will.
Yulia is part of the scene, she was there with them for such a long time that probably nobody cared about her camera anymore. Of course the jump is what made her trigger the shutter, but mind you, the rest of the frame was composed well ahead. The multitude of solitudes represented here are interrupted by this very jump but the viewer knows that it was only for a short moment. By looking at the picture afterwards, the protagonists would probably have wished that time were suspended this way for ever.
Michael is a skilful follower and observer but he can also be a patient hunter. Already the subjects on the right side would have been enough to illustrate a social comment. But Michael is widening his frame to include the replicants which underline the contemporary tourist invasion of the once ascetic, but at the same time idyllic, places.
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Dragos is special (he does film, expired slides, pinholes of all kinds ... mind you, digital too) so I wanted to ask him before going any further in commenting this picture.
Of course the dialectic part of an evaluation is accessory but it happens to know some details about his work. Hellas, not all of them!
So instead of partial knowledge and partial guessing I decided to ask him. But not before writing down my thoughts.
Is it film? The grain doesn't appear to be digital. Nor does the subtle grey palette, so complete that any colour would have contaminated this bursting visual experience. (ed: it was digital after all)
Do you think that people are important? They are not. They are props to fill the scenes imagined by Dragos.
Are they staged? Of course they are. Only that it is also done differently. The subjects are set, then left there until they start regaining control of the self. And it is then when the frame is captured. Forget that you may obtain these looks or body postures by directing human beings. (ed: they were only partially staged after all)
The author knows the difficulty (not to say the impossibility) of getting meaningful portraits out of consciously posing individuals.
HCB was saying that: "The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt." Dragos is putting his camera at eye level and looks through the viewfinder until he becomes part of the scene.
Observe the expression and the look of the girl. It is almost as feeling admiration then compassion for someone spending his time over there and over them. Like asking: "Why are you doing it?"
And the boy's gesture giving up his position and moving towards something else, changing into something we'll never know.
Last but not least, geometry. But I do not need to talk about this. It is obvious that the author masters it and joggles with it at ease. Circular patterns, tilted bodies/poles, fragmented shapes.
Why are you doing it Dragos? - Because I am there and you're not Michail! (ed: not his words).
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I'm done! I have an iPhone in my pocket. Resistance is over. Let's see how much of a collateral cannibalism that is.
When the big Macs have appeared (not the burgers) I was thrilled I could work with my digital pictures and see unseen details and colours.
Then the trips forced me to use more and more the 13" laptop and 'guess' the details. But we (I) didn't stop there. We (I) needed to have it all in a pocket.
And all of the sudden we are all 'reading' fine pictures at thumbnail size. We like, admire and applause tiny images based on extremely altered aesthetic criteria.
Simple geometry, oversized subjects, bright coloured or high contrasted areas, are the new ingredients.
Who would go and open Liubomir's picture in real size (1200 pixels are more than enough to see the details on any desktop or laptop screen)?. Instead we (you) are happy with the 200 pixel miniatures offered by the smartphone. And not only happy, but confident enough, to like and praise the work of photographers.
Let's be clear. The curators who headhunt artists on Instagram take notes and see the work of the authors in real size.
Smartphone screens are simply not enough. Don't be surprised that your likes are not 'respected' or followed by some others, me included.
The picture presented here relies on subtle details and on fine frontiers between colours and shapes.
The main subject is almost invisible and this is the whole understatement and the mojo of the image. The photographer stays away and he is not interfering in what seems to be a very private moment with a mute impact. Frank's '… you are not close enough' was, and still is, a wrong advice.
Picking vegetables from an improvised garden can create a powerful introspection and a painful empty gaze. Only by staying far away we can have the chance to witness it, to capture it and to transmit it to the viewers who make the effort to come close to our message.
Think big, see bigger. Otherwise the wall-size Chefs d'Oeuvre of Rinascimento will irrevocably sink into oblivion since their thumbnail version is simply too 'busy' of a scene for us to appreciate when sliding our finger on a touchscreen.
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Niepce's window will never leave us … (alone)!
Why? Why a window has so much appeal to us? Isn't already the camera viewfinder enough of a window for looking at the world breaking down any responsibilities towards reality and preventing us from acting?
"Voyeurism", one might exclaim (*), "we only see what other images have taught us to see" others have said.
The debate is long, but let's take the odds of saying that a window in a photograph accentuates the imaginary, it confirms that the scene is definitely out of reach. A kind of justification, a confession and an absolution at the same time.
The four pictures presented here have all this one same element and the same underlying semantics, but what a spectacular way of proving that the photographer's eye is not the same twice.
Koushik is objectively unable to participate in the action, George has possibly initiated the runaway, and Denis knows well and anticipates the behaviour of his subjects and fellow citizens.
Tension (Koushik), surprise (Denis) and mystery (George) reveal no information whatsoever as to the why these pictures are taken. No assurance as to the faithfulness of the events, no authenticity statements, no proof of the real experienced facts.
One sole certainty: windows are proscenium arches in the photographers' theater of life.
(*) "Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention … the person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene … the act of photographing is more than passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening. To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it takes to get a “good” picture), to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing—including, when that is the interest, another person’s pain or misfortune." Susan Sontag On Photography
What I have learnt today … from John Szarkowski and some bloggers.
Quiz: I am a small picture, smaller than a palm, and I exist on a surface of highly polished silver. What am I?
Am I an Instagram picture on a Silver iPhone? Nope! I am a 1839 daguerreotype.
The only slight difference between them is that the latter is infinitely detailed. And the question is: Why on earth every new successful app diminishes the resolution and the quality of photographs? Have a look on your smartphone pictures with a magnifying loupe. The pixels won't increase in numbers.
As soon as we got used to look at our digital work on a big LCD, it came the laptop, the pad, the phone and we are now looking at images exclusively at thumbnail size, betraying any aesthetics acquired with pain and suffering and becoming addicts of simple geometry, high contrasts and over-saturated colours.
"The picture should be looked at with its case not fully opened, preferably in private and by lamplight, as one would approach a secret." JS
This is how I am looking at Gabi's picture, with some envy I admit, because my continuous efforts to photograph Paris were hijacked by Atget, Brassai, Kertesz and HCB and not for a moment I thought that I could drop B&W and see Paris in colours. Guy le Guiff was the first to remind me that I have mistaken, Gabi is the second one to confirm my mistake.
In the picture presented here I can smell the Rive Gauche, and funnily I can smell even the noises as I can hear the silence between the young individuals in their identical dress code and gestures.
But most of all, I am captivated by the flatness, and the colours of an ancient wall tapestry. No context is revealed and at the same time the stairs and the wall patterns cannot get more Parisian than that.
This is a picture that stayed a long time in a drawer and with time it gained its deserved nostalgia, its temporal surrealism, one of the greatest virtues of the photographic medium.
"Il faut donner du temps au temps" was saying another famous French man.
After contributing in the several mill bucks business of photo contests, after the multiple sharing and the social media reach frenzy, after all that, do you still have time to do photography?
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