Garry Winogrand has warped my mind. This post is his fault, unless you like the photos, in which case I have to give him all the credit.
If I had looked at my subject as I photographed her I would not have taken the first picture of this post. What the heck is going on here?! In the past I would have deleted the shot from my point-and-shoot without a second thought, but a recent exhibition of Winogrand’s career has changed how I think about the art of photography.
The retrospective of his work at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art has totally flummoxed everything I ever believed about how to take photographs, and now I want to copy his style, with the oddly cropped people, the odd tilt to his compositions, the blurriness, all the mistakes he made that somehow came out as art.
I have made a habit of practicing what I call “The 30 Shot,” a street photography technique for capturing scenes from an unusual angle with a maximum chance of not drawing the attention of your subject. Once again, I must stress that I did not invent the technique, pro photographers have used this techniques for decades (it even appeared in the movie Z).
1: Just let the camera dangle by your side at the end of your straightened arm (in my case, this puts the lens roughly 30 inches off the ground) and run off a bunch of snaps with or without looking at your subject. 2: Check your pictures and delete almost all of them, saving only the ones where you captured the target. 3: Then edit (or not) the results on your computer. Sometimes I get mind-bogglingly lucky:
I wasn’t looking at this person when I took the picture. About 50 feet earlier, I realized that I had a potentially decent shot, got the camera ready, and snapped 5 quick pictures as I walked past. 4 were worthless, and I discarded them. This one didn’t need much work. I converted it to B&W–that’s all. No straightening, no cropping, nothing else. And in case you wondered, the answer is yes–I have sometimes discarded every single shot of a particular scene. I live in San Francisco; I will always find another picture around the next corner.
The next shot (taken today) might be finished, might not. Check it out:
The straightforward conversion to B&W in iPhoto did not suffice. I also had to sharpen the focus, improve definition, and reduce the “temperature” (whatever that is) to -100 (whatever that means). However, I have not straightened the shot, nor have I cropped it. Thanks to the unusual angle of The 30 Shot, the results look more interesting than a conventional picture with a conventional composition. Further experimentation needed, but I rather like this one.
Since I rarely look at the subjects I photograph, the pictures sometimes accidentally have the same sort of unusual built-in cropping that appears in Winogrand’s work. Like this one.
The snap lopped off the top of the head of the person in the back and not only that, I accidentally tilted the lens yet again, but yet again, for reasons I can’t explain the result doesn’t seem so bad. I could be deluded, of course (how many photographers are ever the best judge of his/her own work?), but trying to straighten it cuts off too much of the already cropped head.
However, in one respect I do break with Winogrand; I do not think that black-and-white is inherently superior to color. Sometimes color tells the story better. Consider that first picture at the top of this post. In B&W, it becomes hard to tell what has happened–which means that yes, I published a photograph that I personally consider inferior. Let’s go back to the original color version of the scene.
Suddenly it all becomes clear, and it becomes clear because of how the bright blue of the escaping balloon stands out in contrast to the drab environment. I did not intend to capture the balloon at the exact instant when it blocked the woman’s face, and if I had been looking I would not have taken the shot for that reason. But the other two shots were complete misses (I don’t pretend that I’m anywhere near as good as Winogrand), so I had nothing else to use.
And the result is interesting. I don’t ask for much more of my photographs.
Just interest me.
And interest you.
I hope I succeeded.
Vonn Scott Bair