random beginnings

By | photography

When you put a new film into your camera, you take 2 or 3 shots after closing the camera back, to make sure that the piece of film sticking out of the cassette is wound up. No attention was given to the (manual) settings, like exposure or distance, and you pointed mostly to the ground while taking the necessary blind shots. Now a fresh part of film which has not seen any light was ready for the first take. 

After printing the whole film on a contact sheet when I had finished the 36 or so frames, I always looked at those first two unplanned images with wonder. These blind shots showed a strange world with light flares, blurs, unidentifiable objects, often unsharp, or my own feet on a variety of pavements, grass, lights and shadows. It kind of fascinated me always, but something told me not to use any of it, because I felt somehow that I did not really create these pictures.

Still I sometimes printed the occasional mysterious frame which preceded number 1 (which in those days – the 1960’s – came with the intriguing numbers 84 to 88 on Agfa film. If you were lucky it might even have a large film type perforation right through it, adding as it were something of an identification, some importance, to a piece of irrelevant reality that had portrayed itself.

Of course, I wasn’t the only photographer to notice the interesting film beginnings, so one day I saw a collection of prints made by a number of well-known Dutch photographers of such random images that had appeared on their first few frames. The chosen results indicated that not everybody was willing to show completely uncontrolled imagery, however. Some obviously insisted that even their “unintentional” frames were “part of” their output, potentially interesting, or that it looked like their known work, their “normal” photographs, but only a bit “off”…

Giving up all control, and showing the unpersonalised picture must have been asking too much of them. You have to be free and certain about yourself first, to get on friendly terms with coincidence, it seems.

hipshots, horizons, and eye levels of dwarfs and giants

By | street photography

In earlier posts I have argued that hipshooting is simply bad street photography. Now you probably know that your horizon is always at eye level, no matter how high or low you’re standing. This means that unless you’re a dwarf or a giant, and given the fact that you should look through the finder at the moment of exposure to do your framing, the horizon will just about go “through” the eyes of the people coming at you on a crowded pavement. This will give away many of the hipshot-type photographs, that is, if you had not already noticed the clunky or haphazardous framing!

I know that Garry Winogrand said on several occasions that he did not advocate shooting from the hip. He was very much in control of his framing, in spite of what some (obviously bad) observers of his work conclude. Nevertheless I used to be puzzled by a number of his better-known photographs that have very low horizons, shot from the hip? He certainly would not have been sitting on the curb!  And he was a tall guy… A friend of mine, who is a remarkable street photographer himself, has one such original Winogrand print on his wall, which I was studying. It was certainly taken from a low vantage point! Did Garry not practice what he preached… Then I noticed a vague dark line at the bottom. Problem solved: no hipshot, but one of his occasional “drive-by shootings”. This one was taken from a car window at a street corner. Perfect image, what incredible timing.