Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is Less More, or Is More Less? Part I

William Eggleston, that really terrific photographer from the US who chronicles urban life so wonderfully, has a rule: one subject, one photograph. He reckons that he was getting so confused trying to decide which frame was the best one that he gave up and now only one exposure per subject. Of course he’s the first to admit that sometimes this strategy results in a good image, and sometimes it doesn't.

Then, at the other extreme, we have the ‘spray and pray’ brigade, or put another way, we have the ‘photographers’ who use their camera like a machine gun, ‘shooting’ at x frames a second. And, you know what? Sometimes these people end up with a good image; most of the time though they end up with a whole lot of film used or memory cards filled with no result at all worth bothering about.
A disclaimer from me before we go any further. I absolutely despise the language of photography sometimes (I have a post on the subject if you’d like to read it). ‘Spray and pray” strikes me as crude in the extreme from a standpoint of language alone. And ‘shoot’, ‘machine gun’, and all the rest of the violent, acquisitive, even war like language we use when talking about photography. Now, having got that out of the way, let’s move on shall we?

The digital camera and other aspects of the digital revolution give us the freedom to press that shutter button as often and for as long as we like, without any apparent cost. Of course in the old days of film with just 24 or 36 frames per roll, we had to take a little more care about what we photographed—unless of course someone else was paying for the film. Mind you, even then, you had to change rolls sometimes in a hurry and memory cards have relieved us of such inconveniences forever.

So, where does all this leave us as serious photographers? Do we just fall into line and keep the old shutter finger permanently down? Or do we take Eggleston’s approach and just make one frame of any one subject? Well, obviously both are extreme positions aren't they? Let’s look at each approach separately for a minute.

‘Spray and pray’ is not only crude as language but is, in my opinion, a crude way to pretend to create photographs. Yes, pretend. It is not, again in my opinion, photography; it is nothing really. Well it is, it’s abuse of the wonderful potential of the technology of photography and an insult to all serious artists. Strong opinions? Yes, indeed. But it’s what I believe. And that’s it!

But, what do you get if you take that approach? As I said you may end up with one or more good images in terms of recording some expressions or movements or whatever. But, look, even sports photographers if they are good, mostly keep their cameras in single frame mode. They know that at several frames a second you are quite often going to miss that special move, or expression or other exciting moment. John Free, the humanistic and compassionate street photographer, talks about how we photographers work at 1/500th of a second (shutter speed), so even at ten frames a second you are going to miss a lot with this machine gun approach aren't you?

Indulge me once again as I make another declaration. Whenever I hear or read a photographer saying “I went out today, shot 1000 frames and if I'm lucky I will get one keeper out of the lot”, I cringe. Do people realise what they are actually saying when they make this absurd statement? They are claiming to be completely hopeless photographers. Why would anyone bother? First of all to make that many images and secondly to waste their lives with so little to show for it? Mind you, a good life is not just about what you can ‘show for it’ is it? So, well, let those people get on with it. I will say no more about such activity!

End of Part I. part II is coming soon!!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome any comments, questions, suggestions. The floor is yours! Sharing is a huge part of my philosophy, so please, share your thoughts with us