how much can I get into a photograph

By | photography

Looking back on the year 2011 I remember all that moved the world, revolutions and wars in the Arab world, and the west that couldn’t believe its eyes, hesitant at first, confronted with what it saw as being so “western”: a secular mass movement demanding democracy, spilling over from one country to the next, Tunesia, Egypt, Lybia, which next…Seeing and hearing their brave and fair demands did more for understanding and sympathy than many years of th so-called multi-cultural society have achieved so far.

Then there were natural disasters, terrorism, the economic crisis. There were demonstrations over here too, especially in Amsterdam. I went to a Spanish demonstration, students who realized there was hardly any future in their home country with no jobs for more than 1/3 of young people and numbers rising whilst the country remained deep in debt, its Mediterranean coast lined with empty white hotels. I photographed those proud young people full of life, and the girl behind the banner, with the white flower in her hair, aware of her act and visibly enjoying every moment of the comradeship and common goal. I kept hearing vague memories of songs from the Spanish civil war and Charlie Haden’s plaintive bass lines with the Liberation Music Orchestra.

The second image that still stays with me is from another demonstration, supporting the people on Tahrir Square, Cairo. I was photographing an Egyptian family in Amsterdam and concentrated on an older couple. The woman was not looking at the men, who were waving an Egyptian flag, but at the baby in the pram she held. Amidst all the noise and shouting I could not hear what she muttered, but I tried to understand, because she cried. Then I suddenly heard what she said: “Misr habibi….Misr habibi” – my dear Egypt.

the truth and nothing but

By | photography

So Doisneau used family members as actors in his photographs. “The kiss” is certainly no spontaneous action observed by a quickly reacting photographer, it was planned and staged! And yes, the gentleman standing on the running board of a late night London cab doesn’t only resemble Bill Brandt, it’s his brother. Even Capa’s falling soldier in Spain acted out his “dying”, as is proven by several takes of this “shot” with the same background (the original negatives surfaced not long ago in a trunk on somebody’s attic!). And I could go on… Is this “a sin against the principles, even the true nature of photography” as I hear some people arguing, even those who have no problem with Photoshop and the likes being applied with far less grace and taste…

A description is always true to itself, why are we so harsh on photographs that betray our preconception that a photograph, especially a classic one, should be representative, truthful and unmanipulated. Maybe because we want a photograph  to fulfill the role we demand from it that it should have a narrative function. We want dearly to read a so-called meaning into it, in fact a “story” to comfort us. But is there life beyond the frame? Sure, but we sometimes make it up in our craving for explanations, if not easy solutions. We have to accept some photographs as icons, they do exist on their own, creating their own symbolic “truth” irrespective of context. What you get is not necessarily what you (hope to) see.