Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Bigger Picture

I doubt that I am alone in sometimes making photographs which I know to be good, but which I don't much like, or at least, not yet. I know enough now to see this as a good sign -- my eyes have seen something through the camera that I can't yet recognise as "mine", which means I'm still learning. That orange on those steps, for example, and that stray bottle... It was the price I had to pay for the barrier tape, the vast propeller, and the knotted curtain. Not so long ago, I might have said "No, thanks," and moved on (or cropped the image square), but this week I didn't.

Or this open window, like an Advent calendar, reflecting a nearly blank sky in its upturned glass. I really just wanted the reflected trees in the tinted windows, but had to accept that blank to get the shot. Perhaps I'm almost ready to accept that overexposure is not always a sin against photography. Oh, and the bicycle handlebar, too.

Similarly these spindly shrubs, teetering on the brink of overexposure, seem to work as a sort of balletic stage set, pushing the original intended subject (the subtly greenish tones of the fence and wall, and that graphic slash of blue cable) usefully into the background. After years of simplifying, getting closer, cutting things out of the frame, I've started pulling back, letting things breathe in a wider, more inclusive frame. I'm not sure why, but I find that I keep doing it.

Who knows where this is going, or whether I'll like it when I get there? I'll let you know.


Kent Wiley said...


I understand your change from simplification to stepping back and including more of the messiness of life in your photos. I feel like I'm doing the same thing. It seems like a growing maturity and trust in my craft, that my compositions can support more "chaos."

As for your image of the orange steps, this is obviously what attracts the eye, and then we see the immense fan, and oh yeah, by the way, the can on the railing. They're all telling details.

The second image of the windows is better for including the contrasting open pane. I've gotten so that I mostly don't care about over exposed skies, if they can't be excluded in the first place. This one is perfect as is.

Mike C. said...

Thanks for the comment, Kent. I think I'm evolving a theory of picture-making along the lines "Identify your true subject of interest; now -- if you can -- push it into the background by identifying another, more obvious subject of interest."

If you wanted to be cynical, this is a bit like the great philosopher Alan Sugar's "Mug's Eyeful" (i.e. the shiny knobs on an Amstrad amp that did nothing much but sold the product...).. If you didn't want to be cynical, you could compare it to the way a good teacher finds ways to distract pupils' attention from the fact they are actually learning something useful while having fun (I've been watching Season 4 of The Wire...)

Kent Wiley said...

Good one Mike. I'm going to keep that in mind.

Oh, but then there is that handlegrip at the bottom of the pic. What's up w/ that?

Mike C. said...

It happened to be there and I decided to include it, rather than frame it out (either at the taking stage or the editing stage). It's the equivalent of the can in the "orange steps" picture: I suppose the trick is to include it in a way that works.

My feeling is that a good picture always has to have at least three linked things "going on" at various levels; your conscious mind doesn't have to see them all at once, though. It takes some people a while to "see" (unprompted) the poster in the background of Cartier Bresson's Pont de l'Europe" (the man leaping the puddle), but very few people ever consciously see the echo of the ripple and the broken hoops in that picture, and even fewer notice that weird "mist" behind the railings -- looks like the result of some very heavy dodging/burning.

Kent Wiley said...

"I suppose the trick is to include it in a way that works."

Indeed - what does work? It might for me, and it might not for you. I think small details on the edge of the frame become problematical, often looking like unintended consequences. How do we make them look intended, but not studied? I suppose a certain flippancy comes with experience.

BTW, I really like your allusion to "the great philosopher Alan Sugar..." Had to look him up, but the "Mug's Eyeful" is certainly a useful - and deep - concept. :)