the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

UNKNOWN KNOWNS

Everyone is visible, yet no one is known. Faceless crowds as props in a composition.

Everyone is visible, yet no one is known. Faceless crowds serve as shapes and props in a composition.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

WE OFTEN WRITE IN THESE PAGES ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY’S UNIQUE ABILITY to either reveal or conceal, and how we toggle between these two approaches, given the task at hand. Photographic images were originally recorded by using science to harness light, to increase its ability to illuminate life’s enveloping darkness, just as Edison did with the incandescent bulb. And in their attempt to master a completely new artistic medium, early photographers were constantly pushing that dark/light barrier, devising faster films and flash technology to show detail in the darkest, dimmest corners of life.

And when that battle was won, an amazing thing happened.

Photographers realized that completely escaping the dark also meant running away from mystery, from the subtlety of suggestion, from the unanswered questions residing within their pictures’ shadows. And from the earliest days of the 20th century, they began to selectively take away visual information, just as painters always had, teasing the imagination with what could not be seen.

Friendly chats or shadowy conspiracies?

Friendly chats or shadowy conspiracies? Your choice. 

City scenes which feature individual faces in crowds opt for the drama (or boredom) written in the face of the everyday man. Their scowls at the noonday rush. Their worry at the train station. Their motives. But for an urban photographer, sometimes using shadow to swallow up facial details means being free to arrange people as objects, revealing no more about their inner dreams and drives than any other prop in an overall composition. This can be fun to play with, as some of the most unknowable people can reside in images taken in bright, public spaces. We see them, but we can’t know them.

Experimenting with the show it/hide it balance between people and their surroundings takes our photography beyond mere documentation, which is the first part of the journey from taking pictures to making them. Once we move from simple recording into interpretation, all the chains are off, and our images can really begin to breathe.

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2 responses

  1. Really good thoughts!

    April 16, 2016 at 11:52 PM

    • Thank you so much. Your feedback is always appreciated, as this forum was designed to be a true conversation. Please come back!

      April 19, 2016 at 9:26 PM

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