becoming the tree

By | photography

It used to be fashionable for the photo gurus to proclaim that, in order to take “good” photographs, you should “become one with your subject”: to photograph a tree you should become that tree. In an extreme form: you had no “right” to express your opinion about/take a photograph of e.g. poor people if you did not belong to the same social class!  No matter what ideological or philosophical thoughts these seemingly “deep” ideas stem from, they have always struck me as plain nonsense. Would an extensive study of all the pharoahs and dynasties of ancient Egypt have resulted in better photographs for my Egypt series….hardly. I did not want knowledge to get in the way of experience. I was going to absorb the country as it presented itself to me during the five weeks of my stay.

Useful as it may be to know at least something about your subject (be it old people’s homes or Latino gangs), it certainly is no guarantee for better photographs. A quick intuitive response is far more important to me than study, meditation or even identification with the subject. Being able to look at things your very own way and thus maintain a certain distance – figuratively speaking! – sometimes helps to avoid being overwhelmed by a subject, or may add to an atmosphere of alienation, when opportune. Having an open mind, not losing yourself, is the key to good observation.

Being an insider, and I’m thinking in years rather than weeks, may get you those special images and a feeling of belonging, and seeing details that stay hidden to the casual eye. In both my “house parties” series and the upcoming “gypsies” series on my site http://www.tomstappers.com you may find this involvement which permeates the best photographs from the many thousands I’ve taken over a long period of time. It is fascination with other people’s lives that drove me, not some supposed “professional attitude” of pursuing “the ultimate picture” that “says it all”, should such a thing exist.

move around

By | street photography

I have noticed that some photographers, who are obviously trying to do some street photography, position themselves at a busy corner or big square and wait there for the things to happen. Mostly they are the “shoot from a distance” type. Maybe they have just found a spot where the light is beautiful, or they like the background and now want something to fill the foreground. I’m not convinced that works out well, it is like deciding for yourself  “today I want to take a photograph that expresses this or that”. If you move around it’s easier to remain open and attentive, you can get into a “rhythm”, there are more chances and you develop a certain intuition for hot spots where “things happen”.

text 2

By | street photography

Photography to me is not just another graphic technique, but an independent medium with its very own iconography and specific means of expression. There is evident mutual influencing by other artforms, but personally I prefer photography in its pure form that in no way tries to imitate or tries to be like other graphic arts. It does not seem very clear to some people, by the way, why some photography is supposed to be art, and some is not. I think what makes it art is defined by both the design (which is often instant and spontaneous, therefore intuitive to a high degree) and by the psychological impact of the photographer’s personal selection from reality. In these aspects photography can be totally autonomous.

(from introduction, graphic arts exhibition containing my photography, The Hague 1997 © Tom Stappers)

text 1

By | street photography

“Observations, memories, associations, they all merge at the moment you take the picture. You don’t think of it beforehand. Intuition is far more important, since everything happens so fast that often it isn’t until much later, that you realise what it is that made you decide to take the picture. I think interpretation is more important than striving for objectivity or completeness.”

(part of a text accompanying an exhibition of my photographs about Antwerp, Belgium, at the Flemish Cultural Center, Amsterdam, nov./dec.1994  © Tom Stappers)