Sunday, 14 September 2014

What makes great photography?

Throughout the history of photography, there have been countless great photographs taken by great photographers who have made such an impact on the art of photography, or the way we perceive the photograph that each time a photographer exhibits a new piece of work, we are enthralled by the way the photograph was taken, or what the photographer has left out by means of artistic intent.

So Saul Leiter for example was one such photographer who photographed the street at differing times of the day in all weathers literally, though his great photographs ere shot in such an abstract way, that the photograph becomes much more interesting.

Dorothea Lange when photographing for the Farm Security Administration, alongside others when she happened upon one Florence Owens Thompson, she photographed her in so many poses using wide angles then opted for a close-up which later became one of the most iconic photographs of the century, Migrant Mother
Migrant Mother Farm Security Administration
© Dorothea Lange

The portrait depicts a woman during the great depression and her children, though clothed are enduring the hardship of life, not unlike the children of other regions across the globe.

They are hungry and have moved across the dustbowl of America, the crops in the area offer very little. So Lange documented the daily lives of these people, to inform the affluent of the US, what was going on in their own backyard so to speak.

It does make compelling viewing, is it the fact that the children face in towards their mother whom offers support in the warmth of her bosom. Whilst the mother wears an outward appearance that seems to evoke such emotion, a worried face that draws upon the uncertainty of tomorrow.

What does this tell us; it states that on the surface America may seem glamorous yet this is actually a pretentious state, it is the art of deception. Making others think that everything is okay when actually it is not. 

A lot of photographers document the high rollers and the low lives; Garry Winogrand had this subject matter to a tee. Winogrand would pound the streets of America, he roamed so many places, and he would act as though he had a problem with his camera a trick he developed over time.

Does this make him a great photographer well yes and no, just like America he had an art of deception about him.

Broken nose in car
© Garry Winogrand
This is how he made such photographs, though he did also shoot remarkable stories that would be encapsulated in just one photograph, I would love to go through the immense catalogue of his works. 

However I would just like to share just this one photograph, which for me is unadulterated Garry Winogrand, he had a unique style not seen or practiced today.

Though to be honest one habit which seems to follow Leica® users is that they carry their camera slung around their necks, were as some people like myself will wrap around the wrist and arm which prevents someone trying to steal the camera, and thus your hard worked photographs.  

Another point about Garry Winogrand he is known for stating many points about his own photography,

Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.

One photographer who hails from New York who thinks that this statement is ‘bullshit’ is Orville Robertson. Robertson is a co-curator of the committed Contemporary Black Photographers in the Brooklyn Museum.

He also goes on to say that Winogrand wasted a lot of film too, from a photojournalist perspective you want to make the shots count. McCullin would not have wasted film neither would Robert Capa.
Contemporary Black Photographers
© Orville Robertson

You get the shots but you do not shoot without regard to plans or inclination, so you have a greater understanding of the subject. Though when I first started out I was shooting anything really.

You get home and you view your shots and realise that some of them just look like happy snaps, and some do not. Now when I view my images they have improved in subject matter and some actually tell stories. This is what you should aim for when going out to the street.

You want your photographs to have a higher hit rate, so a good way to get into practice is to shoot film, because when I shoot film I limit the subject to may be one or two frames, but try and make those shots count, you want to aim for impact from the shoot.

So you want to have great photographs that will interest the viewer for years to come, you become more attuned to your surroundings, one way of doing this is to get out and try and shoot everyday, and to engage with your subjects.

The photographer Dougie Wallace makes a point of this which is clearly visible when viewing his works, his photographs are outstanding and are so in your face will be great photographs, in years to come he will be seen as one of the great photographers of the twenty-first century.

Photojournalist James Nachtwey
© James Nachtwey
The spirit of the human condition is captured throughout history by many photographers, some have witnessed the invasion of countries in Europe others elsewhere some have witnessed the horrific events of September 11 2002. James Nachtwey captured some incredible images during and after the event some thirteen years ago.

Some time later the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, or even Hurricane Katrina would give up several interpretations of great photographs. Even today many aspiring photojournalists travel and document these areas of interest.

So what makes a photograph great the photographer or the moment they have captured? In reality it is the photographer who composes a photograph, though in this digital age everyone owns a phone with a camera, whom may be in the right place at the right time can capture a great photograph (London riots). 
London Riots Tottenham AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld
(AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld)

Though I do try to influence the moment, if I am caught off guard by persuading the subject to pose a particular way, so as to not look like it was taken in a staged manner.

Sometimes it pays off, sometimes not. Though if you have the confidence to build a rapport with your subject, you never know the outcome could be a great photograph. 

I must admit living in a city also helps, not just because they’re a lot people, and subjects to photograph but I have access to transport links which can take me out of the city and maybe go to another city a couple of hours away or farther.

If you’re feeling adventurous then you could plan a trip may be with a few other photographers or you could attend a photography workshop. Check out noticeboards on photography websites, or the magazines themselves.

Another way of getting involved with other photographers is to approach them if they’re shooting the street, or landscape or whatever they may be capturing at the time. I am always bumping into and socialising with other photographers. 

I always tend to watch them at first to see what they’re photographing you find out quickly if they’re street photographers, or just your run of the mill happy snapper. If they are shooting in an enthusiastic erratic manner, then you can safely bet the photographer is interested in what is happening before their eyes.

Many street photographers will create a montage of people, and interesting stories to create a great photograph. I have found that the Greek photographer Zisis Kardianos shoots definitely for storylines, and layers the photograph with interesting juxtaposition, and geometry the subjects seem to relate to each other somehow.

Zisis Kardianos
© Zisis Kardianos
This is how I have tried to inject this manner of shooting into my own style, layering subjects or mirroring certain content, try to look for similarities in hand gestures, colours etc. All these converge into the human element in the photograph.

This may be one of my last posts for a while also, as am back in to University and I am going to be working on a dissertation for a while.

I may pop by soon, until then laters!