Saturday, 1 August 2009

Patience

If there's one important lesson I've learned in photography, it is to discard as little as possible, and periodically to review my backfiles to see what I missed first time round. Almost always, overlooked gems are sitting quietly waiting to be discovered, overwhelmed at first sight by their gaudier neighbours, but patiently secure in their own merit.

The ease and difficulty of retention and review have changed radically in recent years: paradoxically, what was easy and what was difficult in the days of film have reversed in the days of digital. Roll-film negatives cannot be discarded selectively, and they're a relatively stable, easy-to-store medium (transparencies are a different matter, but I hated the things and rarely used them). But they are tedious to review. The ranks of miniature frames on even a good contact sheet can only hint at what a full-sized, well-printed version of each might eventually look like. It takes patience, good eyesight, experience, and imagination to get the most out of a contact sheet.

For the digital photographer, the situation is quite different. The temptation to delete unsatisfactory shots in camera or after they have been uploaded is very strong. Each frame represents many megabytes of disk space, and when disk space is running low ruthlessness seems the obvious course. On top of that, digital storage is volatile: you need to back up your images in several places RIGHT NOW before your hard disk fails. But even these backups are volatile -- CDs and DVDs use dyes to record data, and dyes fade. Sometimes, it feels like it's all "writ in water". But reviewing has never been easier: utilities like BreezeBrowser enable you to brood over your images like a stamp collector.


Hartley Library extension

For example, it's taken me five months to notice this image, a no-brainer for the "Campus Windows" project. Shame I didn't spot it in time to get it into my Photography.Book.Now book, but never mind, that thing will be twice the size by the time I've finished a full year's worth of window hunting, assuming of course I manage to resist the temptation to go round for yet another year (or two). Of course, another year's worth would simply postpone, prolong, and intensify the agony of editing yet another enormous sequence down into something digestible...

The corollary of this, I've learned, is that it's important not to rush to judgement. For example, I'm quite excited by these three recent images, taken within minutes of each other at a recent graduation ceremony. They are so similar to each other that really only one can survive into any final cut of a "Campus Windows" sequence. But which?






18 comments:

Kent Wiley said...

IMO the 2nd image works the best. It's the clearest about what's going on inside - if you care at all about that.

Mike C. said...

I keep changing my mind, which is why I thought it was interesting. Currently I'm favouring the top one, though I think that's only because the resemblance to the old James Bond opening sequence only struck me this morning.

shaggy dog pix said...

As the saying goes, for what it's worth, I'd go with the top one, too. The man moving through the frame, looking out at the photographer/viewer gives it a life that the others don't have.

While I'm here, I should mention that I'm greatly enjoying your essays. Thanks.

stephen

Paul Mc Cann said...

No.1 for me also. Nice feeling of balance to it

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Stephen -- I always appreciate it when readers break cover and leave a comment. Glad you're enjoying the posts, too (to call them "essays" may be raising the stakes a little high, though!).

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Paul, too. The startled waiter seems to be edging ahead...

Bronislaus Janulis said...

No 1, as it can stand on it's own, without the backstory supporting the other two.

Kent Wiley said...

Since I'm clearly getting outvoted, I'd better make a case for No. 2:

I too was initially drawn to the first image because of it's balance and movement and intrigue. But on closer study, the complete meaning of the image only becomes apparent - even without any backstory that you were attending a graduation ceremony (it's obvious from the gown right inside the window) - in the second version. The 3rd can be eliminated as incorrect timing. But if you're interested in the density of association that comes to mind from a group of disparate elements, the 2nd image works better. If you're more interested in the chance moment - which is still not perfect - and the mystery of the viewpoint, no. 1 would be a better choice.

But you already know this. MHO, for what it's worth.

Mike C. said...

I like your thinking, Kent, you could convince me yet. The second certainly has the most impact when printed larger -- apart from the symmetry, there is a lot more going on in the reflections in the plastic windowpanes,which you can't see at this size. In particular, there's an attractive "marbled paper" effect.

Give it six months, and I'll have decided! I like to revisit work once it has cooled off (in my own mind) -- usually a choice like this will become obvious when seen with fresh eyes. The real trick, of course, is to continue to believe that it really, really matters, even though it's essentially a private exercise...

Bronislaus Janulis said...

I'm moving in an opposite direction; ruthlessly editing down to a select few, then "dithering".

I like the idea of letting the brain cool; I do that for months, but also "quickies"; just walk away for a while, then a look back, frames, paintings, whatever.

I still like No. 1, as it's not documentary, seems "purer, cleaner".

Tim said...

Guess I'm odd man out, but I like No 3 because of the balance created by the three heads in the background against the gowned back in the right foreground. I especially like the way the two middle heads lean toward one another, as if in prayer, a thought reinforced by the window panes which have a vaguely churchy look.

Mike C. said...

I'm glad someone has spoken up for no. 3 -- you're not the odd man out, Tim because, of course, I agree with you, especially about the heads and the ecclesistical feel. But then I agree with the others, too! ... Time will tell.

I'm interested that no-one has expressed strong opinions about symmetry / asymmetry, or the crop of the image (these were all taken on a Canon 350d). I'm increasingly of the opinion that this is one of the last things anyone cares about in photos, despite what people say.

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Well, if it was wrong, we would have informed you, so balance, symmetry / asymmetry, must be good. Crop, your not allowed to crop, no cropping, he says with an evil laugh, as he pulls giant shears from his cape. Cropping shears.

Kent Wiley said...

Yeah, definitely let it cool off for a while. No doubt you will know pretty clearly in a couple of months, when you've moved on to the new greatest thing.

But back to patience - what's wrong with transparencies? Wonderful stuff. No contact sheets necessary. You can tell right off if color or exposure are right. But I will admit that I'm working with medium and large format, so I don't have the tedium of squinting at those tiny little slide thingies. Color negative still eludes me. A few thousand more rolls and I might have it figured out.

Mike C. said...

I don't quite know what it is about transparencies that I didn't like. It may simply be that I associate them with tedious holiday slide shows...

I've taken a few rolls of medium format transparencies, but could never figure out what to do with them! I bought myself a light box and a loupe, but it seemed an incomplete and unsatisfying experience. Obviously, if you were a pro working with picture editors pre-digital, you didn't have much choice.

I can imagine large format transparencies are quite something, and must scan very well, but I've actually never seen one. The sheer expense of each click of the shutter must focus your attention somewhat...

As an amateur who regards a print as the end product, I tried but loathed the ultra-glossy plastic look of Cibachrome. It falls into the same category as nylon sheets and wood-effect laminates, for me.

However, I didn't much care for the process of making RA4 prints, either, and can't afford a decent medium-format film scanner (I use an Epson flatbed). So I haven't exposed a film in years. If it wasn't for digital, I'd long ago have abandoned colour photography for some other 2-D mark-making process.

Kent Wiley said...

It seems to me the latest generation of Epson flatbeds (V700-750) do a pretty credible job with medium format, and especially so with my 4 x 5's. I'm not going to try to sell you on the value of film capture. I'm recent enough to serious still photography that I never did the Cibrachrome route, pre digital. Admittedly there is the extra step(s) of scanning standouts in order to see what they look like. But from there, the process is the same as working and printing any digital file.

Returning to patience once again, the large format does make for rather severe selectivity. When I go out, it's usually for something specific that's already been glimpsed. Once on location, it doesn't take but one or two exposures to get the correct placement of elements. In my mind, no need for hundreds of exposures. The right one will do. But subjects such as the focus of this post are totally beyond the capabilities of my technique.

Kent Wiley said...

Oh, and BTW, #2 has the best centering/framing of the window. Not so important, but it satisfies my desire for such things.

Mike C. said...

Kent, do you know the work of the British photographer Chris Killip collected in the book "In Flagrante"? Improbably, that work was done with a 5x4 camera! How he escaped being assaulted with his own tripod, I cannot imagine.