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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"What to choose?" is many times answered with another question: "Why choose?"
Just a quick look at the MAGNUM Contact Sheets collection will answer the second question. If these masters/monsters of photography were denying themselves already when film was precious, if they would dumb 95% of their work by circling or checking just 3-4 frames out of 24 (36), there must be a reason.
The reason is that you will be remembered for just a handful of pictures so better choose well, because no one will dig in your TERA hard drives to find your hidden post-humus masterpieces.
Another usually dismissed question is "Why the photographer him/herself was there?". The well-known transgressive fallacy of the photographers not living the moment but just mechanically registering a reality alien to them in order to explain it later, is not enough to justify their presence in the shooting location.
It must be more than this! My gut feeling, my cacophonous internal voice, is saying that they are there because they can't be anywhere else. Photographers are pushed at the brinks of the society, they are marginalised, and right so, due to a distant behaviour and a clumsy interaction with contemporary values. So they become perpetual satellites of a remote to them collective order.
Back to our pictures, Szilvia and Stela with their approach in tandem, they create a binary world, where one serves as eye witness to the other, preserving the authenticity of their vision. But most important, they succeed to bend our second nature of choosing, always choosing among equals for a favourite.
They annihilate our overrated power as viewers, to compare, to judge, to discriminate. Mind you, their ingenious images, although in identical places, light, colours and subjects, are as versatile and as ambiguous as it gets.
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The absolute mystery, the "secret of a secret" applied with virtuosity.
The more I approach to see the details the less I learn about the picture.
No When, no What, no Where is revealed or guessed. Not to mention the Why, the reason behind the capturing of this particular time and space slice.
I can decode some parts but some others remain at the sphere of a nightmarish abstraction.
The geometry has a haunting rhythm as does the ghostly figure below, transparent, fused within the texture, already a shadow itself and still capable to be reflected on the wall.
The light is in pieces. Broken, bounced, weakened for a moment and then strong again.
The greys are escaping any formal balance and the shapes are denying to stay regular. The right half of the precious frame is so empty and so full at the same time, and the only refuge for this extreme visual uneasiness.
All and all I am spending a long time in front of Rafael's picture and that's the first sign of a successful image. The second sign is that, as I leave the picture behind me, I become aware that the picture won't leave me for a long time.
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Almost a 100 years of street photography since Kertész.
The photographic stills of the so called living theater changed a lot in all those years. Greys became colours, the plot became experimental, arbitrary, without a start and an end, unlike the compositional gems of HCB.
The odd, the peculiar, the anecdotic became the standard. As if the less we understood, the greater the artistic breakthrough of the photographer. Freaks and monsters (sensu largo, including half bodies entering and leaving the frame, juxtaposed in Siamese twins postures) became and stayed a dear subject for the street photographers because of their clear and immediate impact on people's delightful suburban lives.
Presently, the once most fearful situation when assembling a scene (seeing fragments not fitting the kit) is almost what makes a street photograph stand out in the "experts" eyes.
Unfortunately, the people who tell you that, the curators who convince you to be as odd as possible … well they spend their lives indoors in verbose symposia, colloquia and round tables. What a waste ... (of time mostly).
If we look closely at the work of the Masters we will see that they all had only a few "good" years. As someone said, don't remember his name (wink): "to be a good photographer is not an eternal achievement but just a clandestine touch of genius!"
Steven is out there at dawn, at night, by any weather, under any light, mostly alone, and he is shooting like there is no tomorrow. And he's right! There isn't!
Go out and shoot, because life is a beach and then you dye ... or paint (yours truly talking in front of the mirror).
PS: Whoever in front of Steven's picture didn't feel on their skin the chill of the night, whoever didn't admire the meticulous construction of the scene piece by piece, whoever wasn't moved by the muted dialogues of the buyer/seller and of the primary colours, is invited to come forward and throw me the first stone.
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