Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comment on Student Photo

This is the gist of an e mail I sent to my students yesterday. 

Regardign your Hearing About the Old Days photo:

Once again, this is a perfect stock shot.  And I mean perfect....  It works for me a little better in colour than in B+W--more honest, if you will, than the fiddled with version. Just as a drum machine is not a musician, a stock shot, although perfect, is not art.  I know there is a thrill to just seeing a photo--any photo--come up in the viewfinder and have it be   a perfectly composed and balanced shot and of a perfect subject--one that your parents or grandparents would never have photographed with their Box Brownie cameras.

I know that when I talk about the old days, and I increasingly do, I either get a tear in my eye or laugh,if I go on reminiscing long enough.  Everyone's past is littered with success and failure--laughter and tears.  The photographer must not be afraid to that littered place in photographing a subject.  Imagine the strength in this same photo with a tear in the guy's eye or him in the middle of a big laugh. When I talked about putting a "hook" into a photo, I was only talking about a visual trick--a damned good trick, at that, but a trick.  There is also an emotional hook that is not a trick and is a far far more subtle thing than putting a red boat into a seascape. 

The point of ageing is poignancy; life has always been short, because we never know when the next bus will run us over, but at an advanced age, there are a hell of a lot more busses running on a much more frequent schedule.  Put THAT in your picture. THATis the hook.  I can not tell you how to put in in your picture until it first exists in your own heart and mind.

And that emotional hook can be felt in something as non-human and seemingly overly photographed as a desert landscape in colour.  Michael Fatali has learned how to put that emotional hook into his landscape work.  It is beyond me how he does that.  He sees a landscape with the magic in his heart and his discipline and technical ability give him the tools to share it with us in all it's majesty and purity. See his work at  

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