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Handing Over the Reins - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Handing Over the Reins
One of the strange, if obvious, things about being the person who is expected to take photographs of family occasions is that there aren't that many photographs of me in the archives that are the product of someone else's hand. We have two cameras, but the urge to document my doings is usually not strong enough to pull me into the frame. It's not a priority. Besides, I've become pretty accomplished at composing pictures in which I appear.

Sometimes I'll use the self-timer. Usually, though, I just hold the camera at arm's length and use the judgment I've developed from experience to construct a photograph. I deployed that technique the other day during one of the stops Skylar and I made to look at the view on our drive up to the Sawtooth Mountains:

I like this picture a lot. Skylar is really good -- she has lots of practice -- at not staring straight into the lens, which in this case allowed me to get the looking-in-different directions effect that enhances the visual interest in a composition. And we look as happy as we were.

Frequently, when someone sees me holding the camera at arm's length, they ask whether I would like them to take a photo for me. And I always decline the offer, being sure to thank them for the offer. The other day, though, when a man on a purple Honda motorcycle said he would be willing to snap a shot for us, I went against precedent and said, "Why not?"

As he was getting ready to release the shutter, I wanted to tell him to watch out for the ugliness of the guardrail and to be sure to get as much of the mountains in the distance as he could. But I stopped myself short. The point of letting go is not to hold on.

I was glad to relinquish control for once. It was a good move, too. Later, when we were stopped at a long delay for road construction, the same man who had taken the picture of us got off his bike and walked over to chat for a while. I'm not sure if he would have come over without having shared a moment with us earlier on the drive. And he was an interesting character well worth meeting. How could someone riding the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada not be?

When I was looking over the photos from the trip to Idaho that Skylar and I made last week, I came across the one the motorcyclist had taken. At first, I bemoaned the way the guardrail bisects the frame, the fact that our hands are cut off. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that giving up control over the camera, however temporarily, was the best move I could have made. Sometimes, it takes giving up the reins to figure out their true value.

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Comments
flw From: flw Date: August 11th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think yours is better.

Not that the other isn't good.

Can you name some other areas of life where you need to cede some control? Use examples. How does this relate to the essay? (20 points):
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 06:14 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I need to give up control over my image, be it my personality or my prose. I have wasted far too much of my life not doing things or doing them belatedly because I was afraid of rejection. So being a control freak has ultimately been a way to take charge of my own failures, because at least in that case I know that no one else has rejected me more than I have rejected myself.

Thanks for the endorsement of my photo. I do like the fact that the one he took has an expression on both me and Skylar that I never see in the shots I take.
flw From: flw Date: August 12th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes, you do have a curious expression.

I never let other people take pictures either, because you know what? For the most part, people really suck. I mean, HORRIBLE. Most people take AWFUL pictures. They are just clueless. I mean, someone needs to talk to them for five minutes. Just five minutes about composition.

I used to hand out cheap throwaway cameras during my band's shows for people to take pictures during the gig, and the stuff that people took pictures of was mind-boggling... what were they thinking? They weren't that's what they weren't doing. Why? Because they're stupid, that's why.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
::laughing::

We handed out disposables at our wedding. Some of the shots were pretty good. But a lot were not. Still, it was fun to give up control in that context, since we also had someone who knew what to do taking photographs for us for a fee.
flw From: flw Date: August 12th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
An interesting aspect of all this is that sometimes people have something in mind when they take a picture. Like they really want to show off their ribbons or something. So they'll take fifty pictures posing with ribbons on and in the background the cops are beating someone to death and they don't even notice because they are so fixated on the ribbons. Then they throw at all the pictures except for the one where the ribbon looks good, and I find them in the garbage.

It's never that good, of course. But the point is that sometimes people unintentionally take good photographs and don't realize they have done so because they are fixated on one aspect that I, as a viewer who doesn't give a damn about their shiny ribbon doesn't care at all about.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Right. I think one of the reasons why I'm such a fascist about respecting the integrity of the frame is that I think a lot about how today's minor detail -- a short of a store front, a car in the background, the shirt someone is wearing -- will turn out to be tomorrow's point of attraction. Walter Benjamin has an essay where he broaches that subject. So do others, obviously, but I'm a big fan of his writing, making me think of him first.

At the same time, I recognize that being a control freak where the entirety of the image is concerned may be the height of hubris. It's all well and good to think that capturing a certain set of objects in the background of a portrait will allow the image to be retroactively endowed with richness years later. But I can't really know which objects will seem more significant than others. Take this shot for example, the analogue of millions like it:
I wanted a shot that would make it clear we were in New York. And I wanted to capture the neighborhood's late-1990s, high-tech boom look. The twin towers were just a way to convey a lot in shorthand. To me, they always represented the approach to New York, the way you could tell you were within striking distance of something better than New Jersey. Obviously, though, their presence in the shot now overwhelms everything else.
flw From: flw Date: August 12th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Beauty. Now, of course, digital changes everything. You can just take 200 pictures, burn them, and wait for your memory to dull.

They say that when you go on vacation you should take lots of pictures because in ten years time, the pictures are the only thing you will remember. now that we are in the digital age, your whole life is your vacation.

I like that shot especially because the Twin Towers are there, but in the distance, greyed out and obscure. The composition leads to them, but they don't dominate. They are just there, matter of factly, a collection of photons. That's a really good picture.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks. I'm nostalgic for the slight blur, which I would get when tracking motion with my Olympus OM-1 under those lighting conditions. Digital images seem less coherent somehow with that degree of imprecision. I wish that camera hadn't been stolen. I miss taking photos that way, when the stakes are so much higher.
flw From: flw Date: August 12th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Are you in Tucson?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, yes. I got back last Friday. Gearing up for the semester, which is especially time-consuming this time around. But I'm up for getting together, as schedules permit.
flw From: flw Date: August 12th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My schedule is a total slut.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I prefer sluts.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: August 11th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
If you hadn't said anything about the photographer I would have ignored the guardrail and your hands cut off thinking it was probably not important to the photographer. However, I like both pictures.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 06:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think I'm too much of a control freak when it comes to what's in the frame. It practically takes an act of God to get me to crop an original composition. But when I look at other people's shots, I can filter out what doesn't matter to them pretty well.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: August 12th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Control freak? Well, I do believe is doing most everything in camera and not relying on "Photoshop can fix that" but, I wonder sometimes about that thinking on my part and how to get beyond that as a limitation. I don't often manipulate image and sometimes I feel like I should do it a lot more, especially when I have the tools to do it. But then, I know it will take LOTS of mulling over in my head before I think somebody else should see it when in my head it might look unfinished or just another manipulation.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 02:36 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The desire to avoid that time-consuming process of reflection is definitely part of my reluctance to crop and otherwise manipulate images after they have been shot. But I also am idealistic about the integrity of the frame. I like the way an unaltered frame documents a specific moment.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: August 12th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes, documenting that moment including its flaws is an important approach to image making, that's why I have such trouble with manipulating images. I don't want to feel that changing that is a necessity. Then again, that's one of the amazing things about the vision of Chris Glass and how he has consistently taken images to match the rectilinear space he uses for his blogs. He's really got that down to a science. :-)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Abolutely. Thing about Chris, though, is that it's almost like the integrity of the image is secured by the knowledge he has that is always shooting for the crop, at least in terms of what he posts on the blog. When he was here and took lots of shots, most weren't intended for cropping in that way and you could totally tell the difference.
elf_owl From: elf_owl Date: August 11th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I like the slightly untrusting look Skylar's got in the motorcyclist's photograph.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 12th, 2008 06:10 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes! I hadn't put my finger on it until you made that comment, but it's totally apt.
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