Saturday, December 8, 2012

Is More Less, or Is Less More? Part II

Welcome back to this split post. Let's get on with Part II

And now, what about the marvellous Eggleston’s approach? His statement reminds me of how you hear people say “Money doesn’t mean much to me”. Whenever you’ve heard that statement from someone, how often has it come from someone who has heaps of the stuff and has no money worries? I rest my case. What I’m getting at is that Eggleston is such a skilled and experienced artist that he can take a one subject, one frame approach and know he will come up with the goods the majority of the time.

In a way it’s the exact opposite to the ‘spray and pray’ brigade isn’t it? I don’t mean in terms of the number of photographs made, but in terms of the numbers of good photographs produced. I think there would not be much argument with my assertion that Eggleston will consistently come up with more ‘good’ images per hour spent with his camera than a member of the photographic paramilitary who machine guns everybody and everything in the hope that something will come out of it. Maybe I should conduct a study. Any adherents of either approach out there want to contact me? We might have an interesting experience finding out the real truth of the matter.

I am very Buddhist in my inclinations, philosophically. One of the Buddha’s main teachings was the Middle Path. The name of this teaching speaks for itself: Life is best lived without extremes, by following a balanced way. For ‘Life’ read “Photography’, which for some us is life! This Middle Way can really only be followed by taking a mindful attitude to all our actions. This would seem to suggest that the ‘spray and pray’ brigade are not adhering to the way wouldn’t it?

But what of Eggleston’s one subject, one photo approach? Nobody would argue that he’s not mindful in his approach; he is actually an extremely thoughtful person when it comes to his work. But, it is extreme isn’t it; one subject, one photograph? Well, it’s not for him; he’s learned from experience what works for him, so he’s come to a balanced position in his practice.

For me, it would be extreme, as it would be I suspect for most of us. The clue for me is what I said in the previous paragraph: ‘he’s learned from experience what works for him, so he’s come to a balanced position in his practice’. And that’s going to be different for each of us and it will be an evolving aspect to our photography too won’t it? I mean as we gain more experience we may find ourselves edging closer to Eggleston. Mind you it’s going to be a few lifetimes before I get there!!

In the end it is for me about mindfulness. And being mindful requires that we are as much in the now of whatever it is we are doing as we can possibly be. In my work on the street as a documentary/street photographer this means being right there and mentally present to all that’s going on around me.
I think I’ve said it before somewhere else that practising being fully present mentally will allow the development of one’s intuition and, over time, increase the connection between the shutter finger and that intuition. And it is this that allows one to be there for that moment that asks to be recorded and preserved. It also allows your subjects to come to you, to invite you to photograph them. Paul Strand, one of the masters, knew this: he said once, ‘I don’t choose the things or people I photograph, they choose me’. Trust me when I say they aren’t going to choose you if you’re machine gunning them!


  1. There is truth behind egglestons approach.

    Forget photography for a second and bring it back to the way the human brain works for a second.

    By focussing (or being 'mindful') you are activating a part of your brain that assists with learning. By focussing intently on the single shot and all the factors you are imposing you are giving your brain a chance to learn the cause and effect and make an analytical decision on it's effectiveness.

    By making many shots you are lessening the chance of learning from what you are doing.

    So, by increasing focus and shooting less you will actually get better quicker.

    The more importance you place on each action the better you will remember and apply.

  2. Ah yes I see what you mean and it makes a lot of sense. I like the idea of giving one's brain a chance to evaluate the results. Yes. Thank you and I'm sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I have just moved from Australia to England and that is exhausting and very time consuming!


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