the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

REDUCTION OF TERMS

1/320 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

1/320 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see, and everything to do with the way you see them. —Elliott Erwitt

ISOLATION IS A TRULY IRONIC CONDITION OF THE HUMAN ANIMAL. The strange thought that, for most of our lives, we are both awash in a sea of other people and totally alone is one of nature’s most profound paradoxes. Photography shows people in both of these conditions, and shooters must choose what illuminates a person’s story best—-his place among others or his seeming banishment from them. Sometimes both truths are in the same frame, and then you must, as Elliott Erwitt says, alter the way you see in favor of one or the other.

In the case of both of the images posted here, the person who “solely” occupies the frames was originally a stray element within a larger context, with the pictures framed, at first, to include nearby persons or crowds. On further examination, however, one or two compositional elements in each of the pictures convinced me, in both the case of the museum guard and the hurried gallery guest, that they could “hold” the pictures they were in without any other human presence in view, and so I created their isolation, something that was not their natural condition at the time.

1/10 sec., f/5.6, ISO 320, 35mm.

I further “isolated” these two subjects by desaturating everything in the frame except their flesh tones. 1/10 sec., f/5.6, ISO 320, 35mm.

Part of this process is my ongoing curiosity in how far I can go in paring away extra visual information before the story impact of a photograph is amplified to its highest power. I’m sure you have all worked with many original images that are just too balky and talky, that are really “made” in the cropping process. To be sure, sometimes you’re just peeling away the rotten outer parts of an apple to reveal…..a rotten core! Other times, however, you are privileged to peel away just enough petals to render the rose at its best, and, with images of people, that can mean getting rid of almost all the people in the picture you began with.

In both these cases, I liked these people to be shown as if they were in command of small little universes of their own. Does that make the photographs sad? Lonely? Dignified? Tranquil? Yes to all these and anything else you can bring to it, because if cropping is the second part of the picture-making process, then seeing if your instinct “proofs out” with viewers is the final and most crucial part. I’m using every process I can to convey to you what I saw, or what I believe is worth seeing. It’s a collaborative process, and sometimes, I’m sure, I don’t hold up my part of the bargain. And still we press on.

Isolation is more than a human condition or a symptom of our times: it’s a compositional tool, a reduction of the equation of scene-making to its simplest, and hopefully truest, terms.

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