Posts Tagged ‘Animesh Ray’

FOTOFORUM: Lucky Accidents

February 1, 2010

Photography –– or at least straight, unmanipulated photography –– seems unique amongst art forms in the level to which chance or accident plays a role in the creative process. Photographers are at the mercy of the world and the world only gives them so much. To paraphrase the classic example, mentioned by CHARLES HARBUTT in his afterword to his book, Travelog:  A photographer working in a white seamless room has only a few creative options: a white photograph, a gray photograph, a black photograph, and perhaps a variety of self portraits. A painter, on the other hand, working in that same white room, is only limited in his paintings by his imagination: He can paint the sea, the mountains, cityscapes, portraits, and more.  Photography involves a different process than most of the other arts.

What this means is that often another kind of collaboration with the world emerges with photography, one that may involve accident, serendipity, or chance.  Technical mistakes –– or what the photographer initially thinks of as mistakes –– can become revelatory. These may include the surprise of a blur, of underexposure or overexposure, of the lopped-off head.

So, for February’s FOTOFORUM, we asked a variety photographers –– including JEFF JACOBSON, whose photograph of his father and son graces the cover of his first book, My Fellow Americans –– to talk about one of their photographs that they perceived as a FORTUNATE MISTAKE or LUCKY ACCIDENT.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Jeff Jacobson, Harold & Henry, Naples, Florida, 1981

My father and my then two-year-old son were playing in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters at sunset.  The sky was ablaze.  I charged into the surf, holding my strobe high over my head to avoid unpleasant electrical repercussions, squeezed off two frames, and returned to the beach.  When I looked at my strobe, I noticed it was on the wrong setting, too strong.  I decided right then and there, long before I had seen the picture, that it would be overexposed, and therefore, no good.

A couple weeks later I was editing on my light table and showed the picture to my friend Richard Sandler.  I told him that it was too bad that it was overexposed because it could have been a good picture.  “Schmuck!”, Richard delicately said, “that’s what makes the picture.  Look how the baby glows.”  It was an early lesson in non-attachment to the experience of exposure, the moment is not the picture.  It helped me learn to take as long as possible between exposing a photograph and editing it.  In the digital world, this is a problem.  But that’s another rant.––Jeff Jacobson

Jeff’s new website

Dimitri Mellos, Central Park, 2009

I shot this picture last year in Central Park. I love snow and I ventured out in the midst of a blizzard, not even waiting for the snowfall to stop, the sooner to enjoy the first snow of the year. I think I had been photographing the previous evening, and I’d forgotton to change the shutter setting on my camera. I ended up taking several pictures at a very slow shutter speed before realizing and correcting my “mistake.”  Nevertheless, when I got home and edited my photos, it dawned on me that the pictures taken at a slow shutter speed, counterintuitive as that was in the blinding whiteness of the snowstorm, were in fact more interesting than the others, because they managed to capture something of the chaotic movement of the wind and the falling snow, and the subjective sense of being caught in the midst of all this. I realized that sometimes the “moment: can be better captured through an exposure that is not so instantaneous and momentary.––Dimitri Mellos

Dimitri’s website

Torkil Faero, Telma, Paros, Greece, 2008

This is an image of Tonje’s and my daughter Telma, taken on Paros, Greece in 2008. When I later developed the pictures, I saw that the whole roll had this strange effect. I had to think back to our Greek holiday with our catamaran S/Y Kairos to solve the mystery. We had been on a day trip and returned late to our boat and the quay was totally dark. Eager to get to bed, our son Torbjørn ran and slipped off the boarding plank and into the pitch black sea. I had to wait until he resurfaced before jumping in to get him. I was terrified. My son was screaming. Amid all the turmoil, I’d forgotten I’d left this roll of film in my pocket, and the salty water created this special effect. It ruined most of the pictures, but, on this one of Telma, it seemed somehow to enhance the moment.

As we will continue to sail our boat, I might try this again someday, hopefully without Torbjørn underwater.––Torkil Faero

Torkil’s website

Olga Kravets, from the project, "Primorsk: The Sunken Soviet City"

This December, I finally finished the work on my project “Primorsk: The Sunken Soviet City.”  Most of it was shot with a Holga, a camera that too often lets light leak onto one’s film, ruining many a promising photograph. This was initially extremely frustrating to me, until I realized that some light leak–– like with the above photograph of the torn world map in an abandoned school –– emphasizes the “underexposed” and mysterious atmosphere of the place. ––Olga Kravets

Olga’s website

Animesh Ray, "The Widow," Varanasi, 2009

Animesh Ray, "The Widow," Varanasi, India, 2009

I took this last month while on a 24-hour trip to Varanasi, a city that I had last visited as an eight-year-old in 1963.  I mostly shoot with black and white film, but this time I wished to tame my new d300—a monstrosity compared to the trusted M6.  I also had in mind Alex and Rebecca’s vivid color from their Seattle workshop, and I thought this was a good occasion to seriously attempt color.

It was quite dark early in the morning in dingy Varanasi lanes.  I was shooting with my M6 but getting nowhere because most of the time I was keen on avoiding the excreta left by dogs and cows, when I emerged on to the riverside into extraordinary lights.  Nearly instantaneously I saw this widow against the river, thought of Styx and all that, and reached for the d300.  I only had one lens, a manual 28mm f/2 Nikkor, the body set at 1600ASA at ~1/15 sec, the longest exposure I can handhold this lens.  I usually keep the lens at hyperfocal distance by feel.  But having been shooting with M6, I had momentarily forgotten that Nikkors turn the other way relative to Summicrons, and so managed to set the focal plane a lot closer.  I took a few frames, with the scene being way too dark to discern through the viewfinder the problem with focus, and only later when I peered into the back I realized my mistake.  Dang, I thought, and nearly deleted the soft frames!

A fortunate mistake…––Animesh Ray

Click here see more of Animesh’s photographs, including others taken in Varanasi.

Rajiv Kapoor, West Bank, Palestine, 2009

Everywhere I wandered in the West Bank, I noticed passion, passion for politics, for statehood, for soccer, for food, for religion, and the list goes on. I decided to photograph a soccer match in a stadium. Originally I intended to capture the facial expressions of the audience when everyone was standing, a moment that I thought would add to the intensity of the scene.  At the moment I clicked the shutter, however, most people sat down and I thought I’d missed the shot. Later, when I looked at the image, I realized the intensity was there in a way I hadn’t imagined, and made for a stronger image.––Rajiv Kapoor

Rajiv’s website

John Masters, Italy, 1992

I was traveling in Italy in 1992.  I had just begun using a second hand Canon AE-1. The film was Kodak Tri-X 400.  I cannot recall the f-stop or shutter speed but I do remember walking through an arch into the plaza and seeing the boy running after the pigeons, causing them to rise up.  I took to picture as fast as I could.  For a long time I bemoaned its graininess, blur and off-centered framing but I loved the look on his face and the movement of his feet.  This is one of my favorite images and reminds me I should always retain my “beginners eye.“––John Masters

John’s website

FOTOFORUM: Indelible Image II

January 11, 2010

Because we had so many responses to last month’s FotoForum: The Indelible Image, we decided to run a second column this month.  So for January, we are featuring the indelible image choice of noted Aperture editor Denise Wolff, who has worked with some of the world’s most widely acclaimed photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, and Eugene Richards.  Originally a photographer herself, Denise is joined by six other photographers from five different countries around the world for this column, all of whom have chosen to write about a photograph that they responded to strongly as young photographers –– an indelible image that still lingers with them today. –– Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

DENISE WOLFF ON SARA MOON: “Shooting Blind”

Sarah Moon, "The Clock, 1999," from her book, Coincidences

When I first learned to take pictures, I was struck that a photograph doesn’t look like what the eye sees in reality or even through the viewfinder. Technical decisions, such as depth of field and shutter speed, are made largely in anticipation of what the picture will look like. The camera freezes moments that the eye could only glimpse in the fluid nature of continuous time and motion. The mirror pops up to block the view on most 35mm SLR cameras at the moment the film is exposed; something similar happens with a view camera once the film holder is in place. Essentially, at the critical moment the photograph is taken, the photographer is at the height of not seeing. I have always been fascinated by this idea of shooting blind.

I bought Sarah Moon’s Coincidences the same summer I learned to shoot. To me, Moon’s photographs seem not so much guided by what she saw as by what she imagined. It is as if she was shooting with her eyes closed, dreaming rather than seeing. Indeed, in the book, she refers to the moment she takes the images as more of a recognition or calling than a function of the eye. “I believe in miracles when I hear an echo between me and what I see, a resonance … the eye hears before it sees.” Her pictures seem to play with this idea by consistently presenting what can only be seen in photographs. Though often highly staged, her images remain utterly open and dependent on chance. The Type 55 Polaroid film lends another layer of unpredictability to the process as the emulsion leaves traces of the photographic act on the images, highlighting their mediated existence as well as their dreamlike quality. Though the subjects of her images are never clearly defined, one, nonetheless, gets the sense that she captured a moment that can never be seen the same way again.

The Clock, 1999 is the image I remember most from my early days of photographing.  The geometry of the circles and the arrows – always pointing ahead into the future – reference a kind of continuous time. The numbers, removed from the clock (as well as from the faint time line at the center) are near the floor, displaced by the beautiful architecture of the triangle dress. These elemental forms remain quite stationary, permanent, frozen. Amidst them, the motion of the woman/clock’s hands creates a visual impossibility as the circle and axis line appear drawn over her arms. Her dark fingers form a stunning band as they run together with the marks, tracing a new arc. Here, the woman is both time itself and timeless, outside of linear measurement and numbering systems (the basis of our knowledge) through embodying, and thus subsuming, such systems. She represents the physical experience of time that cannot be fully measured or suspended. Here, Moon touches upon a central problem of knowledge and science: how to divide/measure a continuous magnitude into discrete units, how to define something constantly and infinitely evolving. She seems to offer the photograph as almost a proof, acting not unlike the woman/clock. All of this is collapsed into one, discrete image, which acts somewhat like memory itself, lifted up out of the infinite fluidity of unbroken time and reality. At the same time, this photograph will outlast the moment and woman it captured, creating its own kind of continuity, one that also resists being revealed or easily quantified, remaining ultimately mysterious. I think this paradox is at the heart of human understanding, as well as photography.––Denise Wolff

A selection of Sarah Moon’s work at Howard Greenberg Gallery.

JUSTIN PARTYKA ON JOHN COHEN

John Cohen, Mr. and Mrs. John Sams, Combs, Kentucky, 1959

Music brought me to photography. After a few years of being immersed in the music of Bob Dylan, I wanted to know what came before. I discovered the raw authentic tones of bluegrass, early country and blues, and the strange sounding folksongs from what Greil Marcus called “The Old, Weird America” entombed in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. I also encountered the work of John Cohen. A musician, sound recordist, photographer, filmmaker, and folklorist, Cohen literally linked all of my musical discoveries together, and his work showed me the way.

In 1998, I purchased Cohen’s CD, Mountain Music of Kentucky. This was a re-release of an LP originally released in 1960, and is a collection of field recordings he made in 1959 in the rural communities around the mining town of Hazard in eastern Kentucky. The haunting songs and tunes I heard pierced me with their melancholy and harsh metallic sounds. This was music out of the mountains from which the livelihoods of the people depended, music that became known as “the high lonesome sound.”

To accompany the recordings, Cohen included detailed notes about the music, people, and places he discovered, and he also included a series of photographs. The photographs show the people and the places, but they go further than that. As the image above reveals, Cohen suggests the sound of the music in these photographs, creating an intimate window into the world of eastern Kentucky.

Like the music, these images are haunting, mysterious and timeless; they embody the endurance of this rural culture, and left me wanting to know more about it. Through John Cohen’s work, I experienced for the first time the powerful impact that a photograph is capable of having.––Justin Partyka

Here is Justin’s website and a link to the trailer of Justin’s film, “My Friend Eric,” about a 99-year-old farmer from East Anglia, UK, and what remains of his traditional agrarian world.

ANIMESH RAY ON HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Athens, 1953

I grew up in India, in not a very affluent family.   Though I did have an Agfa Isopan 120mm uncoupled rangefinder camera, which used to belong to my father, it was difficult to afford to shoot more than one roll of film in six months.  Getting access to serious books of photography was even more difficult.  When I was in college, in 1971 or 1972, I came across in a used bookstore a large hard-bound book of photographs by a man with a double-decker last name.  I am quite sure that it must have had most of his famous photos, but there is one I remember distinctly.  I suppose at that time I was too youthful to worry about time’s irony, yet somehow I found the photo profoundly moving.  It is a rather simple photo, but for me it distills the essence of life’s evanescence.––Animesh Ray

Click here to see a selection of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work.

Click here to a selection of Animesh’s photographs.

ERICA MCDONALD ON WALKER EVANS

Walker Evans, "Negro Church," South Carolina, 1934

I’ll never forget seeing one of Walker Evans’ images, “Negro Church,” for the first time. I was in high school on a weekend field trip to New York. My class had a museum day, and I was just moving along looking at images and chatting with friends when somehow I came to this image. A surge of energy ran through me, and I felt my body rooted into place, while emotionally and intellectually, I felt transported away. I recall silently saying to myself over and over, “I get it, I understand what he is doing, I think I might be able to do that, too.” What I saw wasn’t just a building, or just a church, it was one man’s connection to a place and a time and a people, and his particular perspective also allowed space for my own experience.

I had been interested in photographing from the time I was very young, but seeing this image was an awakening and a calling to work towards using the medium to create relations amongst the viewer, the viewed, and myself as photographer.––Erica McDonald

Click here to see a selection of Walker Evans’s work.

Erica’s website

RICHARD MARAZZI ON ERNST HAAS

Ernst Haas, Venice, 1955

Here is a shot that inspired me. Back when I was starting out as a photographer, my local library in Canada had few photography books, but one that I kept going back to was by Ernst Haas. I found his images to have a mood and ethereal quality to them, and I especially like the way he used color. This particular shot actually inspired me to begin a long-term project of Venice, a place of my family’s origins.––Richard Marazzi

Click here to see a selection of Ernst Haas’s work.

Richard’s website

DAVID BACHER ON ELLIOTT ERWITT

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

This iconic photo by Elliott Erwitt is one that lingers in my mind and never grows old. It suggests the simplicity of discovering one of life’s magical moments that can unfold on the sidewalk anywhere, even on the sidewalk in your own neighborhood. I have come to appreciate surprising photos like this one that evoke a sense of humor, two elements that embody much of Elliot’s work. I love this chihuahua and always find myself wondering what the rest of the large dog and the owner might look like.

Ahhh…like a nice bottle of red wine or a Mozart sonata, this photo is one of life’s simple pleasures.––David Bacher

Click here to see a selection of Elliott Erwitt’s work.

David’s website

JOHN MASTERS ON HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brussels, 1932

I have been looking at Cartier-Bresson’s images for decades.  Of all of them, this one has always intrigued me.  There is a surreal quality to this image, and it can be seen as being abstract.  It reminds me that when I remove the subject from its context (through the viewfinder) it becomes something else, something more expressive than the possibly banal event it had been before.––John Masters

John’s website


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