The extra winter issue of this lifestyle/fashion photography-oriented magazine features part of my House Parties series as an editorial. The subtitle: New Symbols for a New Age hopefully puts a new public on the right track in looking not just for appearances, but for intentions and possible meanings. The fin-de-siècle mid-1990’s dance scene in the Netherlands, as shown in these pictures is still visibly an indicator of the changes of an increasingly urbanized population looking for new ways of expression for their common feelings in spite of all cultural and social differences. Values and traditional roles are challenged and tested out, while the relentless beats of the new music never stop. Somehow I felt like it would always be 1996….
I have been editing old contact prints, and quite a few at that. You can only do so much in one run, it’s tiring. After a few hundred you have to pause or you don’t really LOOK anymore – and you have to be aware of minute details sometimes! It’s your second chance of making the right choice – educated and instinctive – from the material that you have brought together in the past. You lookthink and themes emerge; even though I never work in projects, there is a clear preference for certain subjects. The individual in the crowd, possibilities and difficulties of communication, the human condition. Those moments that some higher meaning shines through like a ray of sun on a cloudy day…
How to get content in an otherwise interesting picture. I have already decided that while taking the photograph (this is analog photography, what you see is what you get). It is the art of instantaneously choosing the elements that can do the magic within the frame, the personal symbolism. The old metaphors won’t do anymore, moreover it’s rare you encounter the white horse of freedom with its waving manes on mainstreet, so you find your own images to carry your thoughts. You may look for one thing, find another, and still be happy. Improvising, being open to the world around you is what street photography is about. Analog photography with a small camera is perfect, I’m sure it has a future. There’s so much freedom in showing your reality, no matter what others call it: humanistic, political, individualistic, poetic, religious, they are all only aspects of our appreciation of “the world”, but meaning and a growing understanding of it should be the criterium, not the fashion of the moment.
When talking about my photographic work to a group of photographers I mentioned that in my view a “good” photograph should be more than ” just an image”, more than just a rendering of “what was there”. After all, why call any photograph art, if a machine could do the job… I came up with the term a “layered” photograph, that I had come across. But of course, this led to the question, what were these layers, could I identify some of them. At that moment I discussed some of these aspects that constitute a good photograph starting from the pictures that I had. The challenge, however, was to make a total scheme, encompassing all the “layers” that I discern in a picture. The scheme, which will follows here has been used by me to explain the idea of the layering of photographs. Hopefully, it may serve to deepen your insight when applied to your own photography (or in judging the work of others)
1. cognitive aspects
2. psychological impact
3. symbols and associations
4. combination of pictorial elements
5. graphic aspects, framing, textures etc.
6. light and dark (I am discussing b&w photography)
The order of these layers is from sophisticated to “primitive”, or from intellectual to instinctive if you like. See if this is of any help to you; if not just keep taking those photographs, good luck!
“The compelling clarity with which a photograph recorded the trivial suggested that the subject had never before been properly seen, that it was in fact perhaps not trivial, but filled with undiscovered meaning. If photographs could not be read as stories, they could be read as symbols. […..] The great war photographer Robert Capa expressed both the narrative poverty and the symbolic power of photography when he said, “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.”
John Szarkowski “The Photographer’s Eye” (Museum of Modern Art © 1966)