The Picture That Changes Everything: the Pleasant Madness of Street-Photography part 4

4: The Glimpse

There’s the world surrounding the subject, there’s the energy of the streets. It’s part of a story we will never fully know. The Street-photographers tries to capture this part of the story inside the flash of his camera. It doesn’t always work, the focus might be wrong. The eye must receive the necessary information in less than a second. The eye must feel compelled to take a closer look. If this happens, the photograph is good. It should capture the viewer immediately. There is just something, even if its a photograph of something mundane, that captures their attention. If this does not happen, if the viewer loses interests within seconds, the photographer has failed the story.
Imagine a movie, a dramatic scene of dialog between two spouses who are on the verge of getting a divorce. The actor must the emote the tragedy of the screen, the connection is becoming lost between these two people. The chemistry must be there, but if you take a still picture of that scene, the body language must confirm the content of this scene. Image them looking away or looking down, or looking at each other with wanting and desperate eyes. If the still is at the wrong moment, this information might be lost. Timing is everything.
One must remember though that there is always something interesting going on, even in the mundane moments. It’s just that not every moment is as picturesque. A war-torn country has a lot of energy, I’m not saying that everyone can make beautiful photographs there, but you are bound to make some interesting ones. There’s a greater victory in capturing normalcy, making it look beautiful. You wouldn’t notice the old man reading the newspaper, but the Street-photographer saw something and now this old man is something special. Now you begin to wonder about the old man’s story.
Often times The Street-photographer never really knows if the picture will work. Sometimes they are so sure that they have something special but when they look back, it’s not there anymore. The angle was wrong, the ISO was too high, the shutter-speed is off or they simply missed it. They were simply too slow. They missed that one precious second that would have made all the difference. Other times The Street-photographer manages to make a picture that at first, didn’t seem that noteworthy but when they look through the collection of the day, they realized that they have something much more than they had initially thought. The caught the energy, the subjects come alive. They have more of a story than they had initially presumed. We often don’t know we have a story until we actually look at the photograph.
They forget that the shutter catches more than you think. There’s the story of graffiti in the subway and as the Street-photographer pushes the shutter button, a lone human lighting a cigarette is getting captured inside the flash as well. Both the graffiti and the human become one subject, one whole story or two sides of the story; the history of the graffiti- the city perhaps- and the history of the lone man. It doesn’t matter how shitty the graffiti art is or how seemingly unassuming the lone man looks, if you capture it right, you catch part of an interesting story. There’s a wonderful book of Polaroid pictures, Colors, The Polaroids by Dennis Hopper, which, as the title suggests was made while he was scouting for locations for his gang-land drama Colors. Looking at the vast kinds of graffiti in L.A., he understood there were stories behind these paint sprays, it enamored him, he needed to make pictures of this- besides being an masterful actor and director, he was an equal master photographer. He understood there were stories there, they deserved to be seen. He captured not just the atmosphere of the streets but the mindset of the youth and artists who left these messages on these walls.
The first time I really began to get serious street-photography, I started with makings numerous pictures of trash such cans of energy drinks or cigarette butts, whatever you could think of that would be lying on the street, and many, perhaps rightfully so, laughed at me, ”why is that guy making a picture of that can of coke?” one pedestrian said to her partner as they passed me. Irregardless, I felt there was something there, though at first I couldn’t explain exactly why. I guess it could be subconscious, you more you let yourself be free with your art, the more you reveal of yourself. Often times I’m writing and suddenly veered into a subject that was dear to me, even though I wasn’t planning on it. It’s about the imagination then, if you make the art vague enough, the viewer/reader might interpret it in their own way- perhaps the pictures of trash by Mr. van Dijk represents the our carelessness of the environment! Art needs to be personal, not just to the artist but to the one that enjoys it. Even if it isn’t personal to the viewer/reader, he will make it personal. An artist often times doesn’t know why he’s drawn to one direction. He just feels there’s something there and so he needs to go there- same as how this article went.
It’s the little things, if you can capture the little things, the bigger things come easier. A shattered beer-bottle might have been used during a fight, perhaps if you look close enough, you would see some smears of blood. This was a battle between two brothers, the story of Cain and Abel resurrected in the twenty-first century. All these examples are props for the seemingly mundane yet complex stories. Just like artifacts of an ancient past, we wonder about what we are seeing, we research and we can only image about its users. These props were used while these subjects were contemplating great things. A little moment might evoke a greater truth. A simple moment captured between two lovers on the streets can be considered everything, making a picture of them sharing a piece of pie might be even better than seeing them kiss on the streets. The kissing might evoke youth, the beginning sparks of a promising romantic relationship while the sharing of the pie, might evoke comfortability with each other, a deeper intimacy between the two- if you made a picture of them together in a private hotel room, you would see one of them laugh as they smell the fart of their significant other. If you made a picture of the plate where the pie was eaten, with the fork laying on it, some crumbs still left, you would catch part of a story. The story might be more clear if the couple were in the picture, but the glimpse of their story is there. Remember: it’s always about the glimpse, the street-photographer will never get the full story, the writer may but never the street-photographer. We can only catch a glimpse, the glimpse is all that matters. Our job is to catch that glimpse and make it look good so that the viewer of the photograph, can wonder about what was behind that glimpse.
The details are everything, you want to be like Sherlock Holmes and catch all the details so you can uncover the mystery but you never will. The random person on the street, seemingly on a great mission, we can only wonder what this mission was. The rambling drifter, we can only imagine where his madness came from. The worried middle-aged woman, what was she worried about? The pubescent with green hair and dirty clothing, is this a sign of rebellion and individualism or this a sign of neglectful parenting? Tourists, people on a break from the jobs they hate. People on meditation retreats, closing their eyes, feeling the moment. There’s so much to tell, you wish you could freeze time just so you could make pictures all day. If there was an eternity, I would spend a hundred years just making pictures.
In the end, we are storytellers, even if we catch only part of the story. Sometimes that little seemingly insignificant part is just as poignant as the whole story. Photography can teach us, in a sort of Buddhist manner, to look at life differently. Unlike a movie or literature where often enough life is perceived as ‘the whole story, where every part is intrinsic to this one character, his tragedies and ultimately his death. It’s not always like that and perhaps it’s not even a proper way to perceive our existence. It’s one way to look at it but not the definitive way. We shouldn’t perceive life as so simplistically cinematic. Life is a series of fleeting moments, it all goes away too quickly. To my mind, in this fleeting moment of consciousness this wisdom comes to mind: the only way we can keep these moments safe from our fleeting memories, even if the complete experience is forever gone, is by taking a picture.

Picture belongs to Tom Plevnik, https://tomplevnik.wordpress.com/
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