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The Art of Not Showing

If you read some books about photography or go to some photo clubs, you can often hear that "photography is the art of seeing". In this scope, new photographers are told about "seeing differently the most common thing in their life". There is something true, photographer tend to look at things differently and by so, creating their own view of the world. If you are committed enough, you start the see the world as a great opportunity for photographic creativity. But I personally think, this is only a small part of being a good photographer and create interesting pictures.

There is no formula but looking back, there is something more important in photography. The art of not showing. It's kind of a paradox in photography when you are told, as a photograph, to see differently. Looking at what's will touch people while looking at your pictures, it's usually the open gate to their inner feeling. I have the strong impression that a photographic work should not be fully completed in order to keep your viewer free of "preconceived idea". The picture should support the mind of the viewers to float, to be disturbed, to rethink their own feelings or even their own life.

But how do you do that as a photographer? Difficult question maybe when you take a picture, you are trying to reach the same level of questioning or at least allowing your pictures to open the same questionings for yourself. I'll try with some of my pictures but this is only my humble perspective...

A dead TV

A dead TV, ƒ/2.0, 135mm, tv on flickr

I took this picture in my home village, the street is known to me. But when I saw the TV set (dropped by a neighbour for the garbage collection), this triggers many questions. Not only the simple fact of having a lost and out-of-context object in a street but the follow-up questions. Is technology so futile? Should we get rid of TV? How much garbage do we generate by just watching TV? So describing the whole reasoning why you take a picture, why you choose a specific framing... It is somehow related to this uncertainty and open questions that appears in your mind. So maybe the fact of seeing the lost TV, you see many other things.

Girls talking

Girls talking, ƒ/2.0, 135mm, girls on flickr

While waiting (in an uncomfortable position) on a bridge in Amsterdam, hoping that some people will walk on the other bridge... I heard two ladies talking in my back and moving toward the small river. Then they sit, they were so involved that the surrounding world didn't exist for them. What's the exact subject of the picture? Just some people talking? Maybe they seem so outside of the picture (not only due to the framing) we would like to know more about their discussions. Or maybe this is just a reflexion of our loneliness or the importance of talking.

Photography is not only a matter of cameras

Usually interactions with people help me to get subjects for my blog posts. One of them is the photographic equipment. When you "shoot" in an event, people grab you and ask you many questions about your photographic gear. The most regular question or should I say statement: "You have good equipment, you must take amazing pictures". At first, I was unsettled by this kind of question. Trying to explain that a tool is just a tool and you need an eye to take pictures. But my argumentation is usually vain and people still think a tool alone makes great pictures.

My strategy changed over time. Now, I give my camera and tell them: "Now, do some amazing pictures!". And you know what happen? I don't remember to have seen an amazing picture. Just a lot of statements like "Where is the automatic mode?" or "Where is the zoom?" or the best of the best "It's too difficult".

Alex and Bob

Kodak Portra 400, Hasselblad, self-portrait on flickr

Technique is just technique. We don't really ask to a writer which model of pencil used for his/her last novel. It seems in photography, it's quite different because the tool used seems to be more omnipresent. But this perpective is wrong, the tool is just a support for the expression. Just like the theater scene is a medium of expression for the artist.

You might see a paradox by explaining the film, the camera or the focal used for the pictures in my blog post. As the blog targets people who do photography, this is a kind of sharing experience with my peers. Among peers, we share good (and bad) practices and techniques.

To take and share pictures with your public, it's not a matter of techniques. It's just a matter of sharing feelings with the public. Maybe the best to express this, was Léo Ferré who wrote a letter to the belgian photographer Hubert Grooteclaes.

"Votre appareil à vous est dans votre poésie. Vous êtes un artiste et les techniques que vous employez restent un moyen de s'exprimer alors que dans d'autres mains, trop souvent, elles ont la pâleur de l'artifice et l'incroyable démangeaison des conquêtes publicitaires." -- Léo FERRÉ in a letter to Hubert Grooteclaes

Surveillance Camera Versus Photography

Except if you live in your basement, everyone can see the increase of surveillance cameras in our societies. Some photographers like julie ferguson even questioned this and reuse images of surveillance cameras to create new photographic artwork.

In the past years, there are obviously a parallel increase of paranoia against the street photographers. I argue with someone in the street asking why I'm taking pictures in the street and telling me that I shouldn't take photographs here. We were surrounded by CCTV camera while mentioning this, the guy just left. Questioning myself about this, the answer was not obvious at a first glance. I have a small theory about it (for what it worths).

The increase of video surveillance was done without real complaints from the citizen. It's there and it seems that everyone is living with it. But as a matter of fact, surveillance cameras are there and complaining is nearly impossible. My feeling is the following, it's a psychological displacement. Basically the aggressive feeling against video surveillance is transferred to a mere allusion, the street photographer.

cctv.jpg

CCTV in Paris, ƒ/2, 135mm, cctv on flickr

Photography a solitary art?

Is photography a solitary art? Difficult to say but I usually take my best shots while alone or with other photographers who understand the practise of photography. The idea of this post came from Bob who asked me to take a selfie. We tried to take pictures in front of a large mirror in a hotel's lobby.

But photography is time depend, you need time to think about a picture and some time to represent a picture. The time requirement was not meet for the selfie but we did overcome the challenge. Sometime you hear that photography is solitary art but is it really? Thinking about it, it's not the act of being alone but to control time. You just need a set of people in the same spacetime. Bob and I tried to be in that spacetime but the surrounding were obviously much faster than us.

Next time, we will control time. We will get rid of our watches and ride the spectrum of time with our cameras.

self.jpg

The Difficult Exercise of Self Portrait, ƒ/6.3, 35mm, selfiehotel on flickr

Watermarking or how to destroy your work

Ma soif de savoir est...

Ma soif de savoir est..., ƒ/2.5, 50mm, tag on flickr

While visiting a recent photo-club exhibition, I saw watermarking on a vast majority of the printed art works presented. This is really disturbing not only for your eyes but also the concept itself of adding some text on top of your work.

While asking the members of the photo-club, they told me this is recommended practise to "protect" their work. I think "protect" in their view means limiting the distribution of their picture. Indeed, when you look at a picture with a watermark below distracts your view, your mind and then, it's just distracting from seeing the picture. So you tend to move away from the watermarked pictures and concentrate on the pictures without watermark. At the end, I was more interested in the work of someone having an interesting set of negative-space pictures without any distracting marks or tags.

Then one member of the photo-club told me that everyone was really attracted by those minimalist pictures. Indeed the pictures were nice and well done but I think the factor of water-marks for the other pictures is not to under estimate. People focus on the pictures who attract their eyes (and their brain), this is very human. If you add some complementary factors, your work is less accessible and by so you'll get less potential viewers. Especially adding water-marking on art works in an exhibition doesn't make sense.

For watermarked images on Internet, it's exactly the same. People tend to move away from the watermarked images. If they search for an image or a topic in an image search engine, they will see a whole list of pictures. They won't select/click on the ones having a clear message for them and not the ones with random text on top of the images.

If you are afraid of someone use or reuse your work, the best is to publish your work. The more your work is known and attributed to you, the more you protect your work. The watermarking basically does the opposite, limiting the distribution and especially the possibility to reinforce the attribution to your work. The more viewers you have, the more potential attributions you might have.

My work is freely licensed under the CC-BY-SA license (or even the GNU GPL license) and the non-visible watermarking is in the meta-data (EXIF).

I don't like watermarks, what about you?

The Difficult Exercise of Self Portrait

Three a and a self-portrait_

Self portrait is a difficult exercise for me. It might seems to be a kind of paradox because I'm taking pictures of the others. And the paradox becomes bigger at a time where people use their portable cameras (read phone) to make their self portraits.

I found a single self-portrait in my archive. When I took this one, it was a matter of typography of the "a" letter. Nothing more.

For a majority of people, taking a picture of themself is easy and this seems a natural process. I enjoy people using camera to shoot themself as they appear to forget about their surrounding for a short period. It's a little instant where they forget about the world. Taking this instant, it's kind of magic. Like the selfie with the lady and the goat.

Selfie with a goat_

When does a photograph exist?

We heard often people mentioning that they have tons of photographs but they never select their prefered ones. If they don't select the photographs, they never print these and never show these to someone else. Are these photographs really existing?

After the discovery, selection and publication of the Vivian Mayer's works. Her work started to exist on its own. You can say a photograph exists even without a camera as you can take mental pictures of moments. It's indeed true but souvenirs alone don't do a good photograph. In the process of choosing a good picture, you should be able to lost a part of the history behind like the difficulty perceived when taking the picture.

Sometime ago, I took some pictures in front of a graffiti from Mr. Chat in Paris:

mrchat-contact.png

One photograph emerges from the stack, a lady lost in her thoughts hug by Mr. Chat.

mrchat.jpg

Mr. Chat liks to hug, ƒ/2.0, 135mm, mrchatflickr on flickr

The photograph was selected to be part of a series about "movement" in an exhibition in Virton.

The interesting part is that another artist (Jean-Luc Stiernon) got the print of the picture. He even draw a representation of the photograph in a drawing. A kind of meta-art.

jeanluc.jpg

If the initial selection was not made, such dynamic will never exist.

Select or Die

Being addicted to trees, it's often very difficult to select the pictures you want to publish and share with people who like trees too. And the most difficult part, it's usually the selection. Today, I'll try to explain this process...

Saturday morning, I took my camera and wander next to a river close where I live. My addiction to trees is huge and I can usually remember where a specific tree profile (as they are all unique) is located as long I saw it one or two times during summer and winter time.

“Never worry about being obsessive. I like obsessive people. Obsessive people make great art” -- Susan Sontag

Trees have a kind of presence which make them unique depending of the context and framing. Just like people. So taking pictures of them is usually a challenge (even if they don't move) or seem to be stable in the environment.

For the following tree (that I knew for the past few years), such profile is quite common due to the "evolution" of the agriculture. Before being a meadow, it was a field where maize was cultivated. With huge machines, trees are not welcome and farmers tend to cut those and often partially when it's not directly on their fields.

With the surrounding constraints, the tree develops itself and grew. Initially, I wanted to show the contrast between the wildlife and the control of nature. As seen in picture 1, the tree was more far away and you can see the field. But the contrast between the two was not too well marked. On picture 2 and 3, the river helps to stress the contrast between the two parts. If you look carefully, you might see the small path where animals are using to pass by.

3 pictures of the same tree

I took 3 pictures but which one to select?

Why did I select the picture 3 at the end? Because the grasses in front are more exposed and showing more the contrast between the nature and the controlled nature.

Morning Trees

Morning Trees, ƒ/9.0, 14mm, morningtrees on flickr

Selection can be a difficult process but, in my eyes, it's part of the photography act.