Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Your Camera: An Instrument of Your Sub-Conscious Mind

Only art penetrates the seeming realities of the world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive.
                                Saul Bellow (Nobel Prize lecture 1976)

Whenever we read something there is a part of our minds that immediately interprets what we are reading through our stored knowledge and experiences; through the unique filters we all have.  Same thing happened to me when I read this little excerpt from a famous speech. Immediately I saw how it relates to my own art, street photography. At least to the street photography that I practice.

Of course for many street photographers this is simply not the case. Much street photography is planned, searched out, hunted for (now this is a term I loathe when it’s used for street photography. We really have to do something about the language we use.), designed to highlight technical skills or even as an act of compliance with the current paradigms in the genre.  None of this is criticism, not at all. I’m just saying that while I consider what I do to be art, many do not. Fine I say.

Naturally I am alert to and aware of (not to mention constantly trying to learn more about) light, composition and the other factors that go into making a technically correct and decent photograph. The people I photograph deserve no less. But, I would say that more than this, or rather, before and in addition to these considerations, I try to open myself to the people and situations I photograph, to the moment. Yes, the moment. Again, pretty much like a lot or most street photographers.

My best hope is that I am open to receive moments that, while on the surface appear to be ‘ordinary’, and without any special or obvious meaning, are nonetheless able to reveal in some small (or perhaps not so small) way something of the essence of humanity, some small (or again perhaps not so small) insight into the human condition.

I think it’s true to say that for the vast majority of the time as we all go about our ordinary lives, we do not notice even a fraction of the moments that flow around us in the lives of the people who cross our paths.  (not to mention the amount of time we aren’t even aware of moments in our own lives that go unnoticed.)  And even if we become the flaneur as so many of us street photographers try to do, we still cannot on any kind of conscious level see and register every tiny little thing that goes on in our field of awareness.

But it seems to me that, at what we can call the sub-conscious level (I know that’s a huge space, there are levels below levels. Besides, let’s not get too technical here!) we do see more; we do take in a lot of the small, quickly moving and changing tiny details of things. Of gestures, of looks; all kinds of things enter into us at those sub-conscious levels.

This ability is inherent in all animals, including human beings. I think we all know that we would not have survived this long as a species otherwise. I know this is all pretty broad, but I think you get where I’m going, so stay with me while I get there please. Thanks!

Anyway, suffice it to say, we all take in all kinds of things, all the time, and at all kinds of levels from the glaringly obvious conscious level, right through to the very deepest of sub-conscious levels (and some say there are levels below that).

Those of us lucky enough to be roaming the streets of the world with a camera, have an instrument in hand that works very well in recording some of these little things (gestures, facial expressions, movements, and the rest) that under cameraless circumstances would only be received at some sub level and perhaps remain buried there never seeing the light of day.

So, many of these little details, while they may or may not be important to our survival, or even to our ability to navigate in our environment,  can be for street photographers the extra ingredient that makes an okay photo suddenly become a little more than an okay photo.

I came across one such photograph recently. This one was made back in 2011.

A Decisive Moment Best Forgotten
(Echuca Australia Nov.2011)

I spotted this parent sitting on that wooden wall with her children (there is a toddler to the left of the frame in this photo). The nice little family scene drew me in. I made one image of her sitting and including the toddler, then, suddenly, she stood up and went to grab her bag. I instinctively pressed the shutter again. To me looking at the camera screen after the event it seemed to me to be a good image of a parent’s burden, as she strained to lift the baby, grab her bag, watch her toddler and get moving all at the same time.

These are the things I saw on a conscious level. What I didn’t see till later on the computer screen was details of the baby’s face. Now, it’s a bit out of focus or blurred, but there, plain as day, we can see the baby being sick. Gross, you might say. Why make a photo of that for goodness sake?

Well, that’s the point you see: I didn’t make a photo of a baby being sick. At least I didn’t know I had at the time. But, looking back, I thought I must have seen that little detail at some level. And you know, I think it makes for a better photo. It tells that story of an overburdened parent even more strongly. Don’t you think? ‘Oh hell,’ you can hear the mother sighing. ‘What next?’

So, perhaps some deep level of my mind saw the whole story while my conscious mind (and my eyes) only saw the overall scene and my mind took action and made me press the shutter at that exact moment. Hence the title: A Decisive Moment Best Forgotten.

This sort of thing has happened to all of us. Share those moments with us!


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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