The man with the yellow shoes. Paris, France. 2009

Over the years I’ve given a lot of thought to how I feel about taking photos of strangers.

When I first started taking photos I was very attracted to the type of photography practiced by people like Cartier Bresson. I used to love the whole capturing the moment thing. Photos of people were to be stalked in the streets with stealth as though they were frightened creatures. “The moment” is a skittish thing and if it senses you are sneaking up on it, it will bolt, or so I thought.

As I got a little older I came across the writings of Hunter S Thompson. Hunter was a practitioner of what has become known as “Gonzo” journalism. Hunter didn’t just report about his subjects, he engaged with them to such an extent that he included himself into the story. Truth be known, Hunter was always the story.

It has long been known in physics that the act of observation, effects the observed.

So now that I’m older, I’ve discarded, for the main part, the idea that taking photos of people unawares is somehow more pure and therefore better. One of the by-products of taking photos of people from a distance so they don’t notice you, is that telephoto lenses tend to be used and by their very nature, such lenses, due to their reduced depth of field, isolate subjects from their context by blurring the background.

I’m starting to see people photography as a sort of visual historical record of my interactions with people. I say historical record because I try to include information in my photos that will speak to people in the distant future and tell them about this age I live in. My photos will be like an archaeological dig that can be read by those attuned to such things.

This photo was one of the first photos I took after I landed at the airport in Paris.

Yellow shoes make people happy

Much to my jet lagged wife’s horror; I went up to the man in the photo above and asked him in my broken French if I could take his photo. I explained that I liked the way how his shoes and the way how he was dressed complimented the colours of the shuttle train we were in. I told him that he looked great and I took about five photos of him. I then showed the man with the yellow shoes the images in the LCD viewer on the back of the camera and shook his hand to thank him.

Over the years I’ve come to realise that people like to be noticed and appreciate being sincerely complimented on how they look.

As I was taking the photos my subject started to beam, and that’s what I like capturing nowadays. By the standards of photographers like Bresson, my photos are no longer pure. Many of my photos are now “gonzo”. I’ve interfered with the subject and that interaction has become a part of what has been recorded in the photo. The photo is no longer pure in the old sense, but it has become something new.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I couldn’t use the Photoshop CS I loaded onto our laptop so I bought a copy of Photoshop Elements in Lille (northern France) the other day. My experience with my courrupted version of CS is almost like being around an bright, lively, intelligent, dear old friend that has been struck down with an illness and amidst my sorrows, I have to deal with his drooling dimwit relative that only gibbers in French. So I hope that my images look OK because I’m not used to using a laptop and such a dumbed down program.

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