Pictures, snapshots, photos, photographs, images: what’s the difference? Only that there are so many words for the product of this activity. Also, there are many verbs that qualify or define the act itself: take a picture, make a picture, shoot, snap, or in French to photostop. From the very start the camera has to be pointed at something, either consciously, deliberately, unconsciously or sometimes by accident. If the lens focuses and there is enough light an image will be made. There is ever the element of chance, even when the photographer sets out to exercise the maximum amount of control possible.
What grows with time and gets sharper with practice is the awareness of what is happening or is about to happen in the frame. There is an increasing ability to sense how the light will alter or create the viewer’s awareness of the image. There are many genres: portrait, landscape, people, reportage, architecture, still life, macro, food, medical, botanical, zoological. And then there is street.
What is there in the street? A list of objects, shops, appliances, street furniture, people who are there for any number of variable reasons. What else? A current, a sense of being in a corridor for some reason none of us really know, a sense of privacy, a sense of being crowded in. There are stories with characters: half told stories and characters we will never know. Yet there is also being.
In praise of the great anonymous 20th century Vivian Maier a visitor to a sight set up in her memory said: “It is as if the pictures she takes capture not only that particular moment, they also show us the life story of that person written in their posture, inscribed in the face of that person or living in their eyes.” There a few of the many photographers I admire who also seem to have this quality, as if they somehow extended the moment beyond itself making it relevant and immediate to new and subsequent Nows.
When I take my camera into the street, there are long extended times when I do not or cannot take any photos. It is as if I wait, and wait and walk and talk to people and interact and dream two hours for every few seconds or one hundredth of seconds that I am taking my pictures. When I take my pictures I like to think it is from a certain relaxed state of mind that I work. Not that I class myself with those who had or have the ability to see the secrets of being, it is rather that not really knowing what’s coming next I continue to look in the frame. Sometimes I will ask for permission to make a picture, especially if the subject or prospective subject is already engaged in some kind of public activity. I asked some demonstrators in the ICCS union if I could photograph them and they said “Yes.” I asked a Pearly King for his permission. Not only did he say “Yes,” he sang an old Cockney song looking straight into my camera. I felt privileged for that.
There are other times when I just take pictures: this could be in a street where people are bustling about or a river scene or on the Embankment. In these cases I am wary of causing anyone any offense, yet the whole nature of the exercise is to catch the movement of life as it is happening around me. I also am part of that life, and see others who have come to make images of what is going on. I try to avoid there being children in my frame, as I know how sensitive this issue can be. I shoot overtly most of the time, discretely at others, yet never covertly. I do not like to fall back on the law yet it comforts me that the law is quite clear that photography of people who are in a public place is no crime. That is the bottom line. I prefer not to think in that way. If someone asked me to delete an image I would.
Mostly I would say,”Thank you” to any subject who has been kind enough to allow a photo. I also say Thanks to those who do not realize they are in my picture or do realize and do not mind. What am I taking these pictures for, you may legitimately ask. The answer is not for any reason. Hence the title of this blog, What Photography. I don’t think it is a bad thing to say that you “shoot” with your camera. Cartier Bresson regarded this shooting aspect as crucial. Let us close by saying in this kind of shooting there should be no injuries or fatalities and no victims, not even the shadows of victims. If photography is ever an art form it is the art of aiming: the aiming art.