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Article courtesy of... FRAMES (www.readframes.com/magazine) written by Scott Olsen.
Let’s begin with, and stay with, the image.
And let’s begin with something obvious, though often forgotten.
Technique is not the same thing as insight.
A few years ago, I saw an image I liked. Today, I don’t remember what it was.
However, it was an example of levitation photography and I was intrigued by the technique. So, I read a couple of articles and recruited a friend to help me out. Half an hour later, after a bit of image stacking and spot erasing, there she was—floating in mid-air. It was a fun little bit of learning.
It was also a worthless picture. I had learned the how. But I had nothing to say.
I often feel this way about minimalist photography. I love black and white. I love landscape. I love snow and water and sky and land so flat a marble rolls nowhere unless pushed. So why do I find a great deal of minimalist work derivative or simply boring?
Why do I think I will do harm to my own desk the next time I see a pier, centered in the image, reaching out into some glassed-out body of water?
Yep. For a lot of what I see, it’s all technique with nothing to say.
So, of course, the universe conspires to deliver an image of a pier jutting out into a body of water I like. I mean, I really like.
Look at this image by Roy Fraser. It has all the elements of a thousand others. It could be just another example of the commonplace and cliché. But it’s not. This one is special. This one sings.
Look at the pier. In the foreground, it’s submerged. As it recedes toward the horizon, it also rises from the water. There is a sense of emerging, a sense of stability or security, ancient survival or at least hope in the distance.
The lamp or sign at the far end is crooked—a sense of age and large forces, also a sense of strength—strength of purpose if not of steel.
Look at the water. Long exposure, yes. But not so long as to make the sea a plate of milky coloured glass. Long exposure here does not erase time, it captures and includes a good bit more than 1/120th of a second. We can feel the sturm und drang. We can feel the pull. There is motion and energy here. There is strength and speed. The water swirls around the pilings. And it’s important to note the water in this image is receding—it is pulling us along with it, into the image. It’s a curious effect. The receding water pulls us toward an emerging pier. The pilings are the resistance.
Look at the rollers and breakers in the waves. This is dangerous water.
It’s easy to imagine the force and threat of large water.
There is motion here and history and narrative. This is not a generic pier in some every-lake. Even the knots in the wood of the boardwalk make this a specific place.
The left side of this image is brighter than the right, pulling our eye that way. The lamp leans left. Look at the clouds or fog or mist. They appear to be moving right to left in the frame. The sense of motion, the dynamic, the kinetic, the visceral is large.
There are two tones in the sky. Is this an ND filter added in post-production? I don’t care. This image is a blustery, dynamic, dangerous if you’re not careful day.
Look at the two pilings closest to us. One is submerged. One is nearly under. That lack of balance creates a tension at our tightly bucked galoshes. The piling tops are uneven, too. Lack of balance always creates tension. Sometimes this is good.
Sometimes, like here, it is very good.
And then there is that metal thing in the middle of the frame. It’s a barrier to keep people from walking to the far end. Prevention and security are at the middle of an image of storm and wave.
But here’s a question. Does the power and success of this image depend on knowing the others, on knowing this one breaks the normative of subject? I don’t think so. Because of its motion and implicated danger, I have a relationship with the image. Not just a static appreciation.
Keep in mind, everything here is a decision. That’s true for every photograph, yes. Even if we leave the camera on fully automatic, that’s a decision too. The framing of this particular pier, with the metal barrier, the exposure and shutter speed, the choice of this image over the dozen I assume were shot at nearly the same moment, the black and white, the dark sky, all of it amount to artistic vision. It all amounts to something to say.
Review courtesy of FRAMES (www.readframes.com/magazine) by W.Scott Olsen
April 2021 edition
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