Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Eyes Have It

Picture courtesy Dominic Sansoni

I like photography. It's one of my passions and has been since I was about 17, when I got my first job in a camera shop.

I enjoy looking at a stunning photographic image far more than if I was to see great painting. I probably wouldn't know a great painting unless it had "Donatella Versace" or one of those other famous Italian painters written underneath it. I can't even begin to verbalise the qualities in a great photograph but I know what one does; it makes me feel something, it stirs my emotions.

A great picture makes me smile, it might make me sad or it might make me laugh, but it does things. It makes me go "wow", it makes me think "fucking hell, look at that" or maybe "mmm.... those string hoppers do look good". I think, in my whole life, I've taken a handful of pictures that I would consider as good if I saw them and they had been taken by other people. Yet I can open that great tool that is flickr and there are the most breathtaking images there for all to see at a glance. Have a look at the photographers I have linked on the left here if you want some visual delights.

The questions that I often ask are not about what makes a good photograph. The answer to that is easy, it's an image that stirs emotion. The questions I ask are more about what makes a good photographer. What differentiates the great photographic predators from the average holiday snappers?

After many years of pondering I have come up with the answer.

The eyes.

More specifically it's the way they are used. Many people don't have a clue about what will make a half decent picture, they wouldn't know the difference between a symphony by Beethoven and a Take That song, they wouldn't know a string hopper from a space hopper, they don't matter. But other people, normal ones like me have an amount of appreciation for a good photograph. Some of us have a faint idea about how to use a camera, about the rule of thirds and depth of field and technical things like that.

When confronted with a picturesque scene, I can usually figure that it might make a decent picture, if I do things correctly which occasionally happens. I see a scene and try to record it, very simple. That's how my eyes work.

The really great photographers have special eyes, they have eyes that work differently to mine. They see something that I would have walked past without even thinking about taking a picture of and they see a beautiful picture, one that exists but just hasn't been captured yet.

That is the difference, the soixante neuf, as the French say. Average chaps see something spectacular and try to take a picture of it. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The great ones see something average but they spot a spectacular picture in it, often the picture only exists in their mind until they've recreated it on film, or sensor.

Have a look at the picture at the top of this post, if I've managed to attach it correctly. It's taken by one of my favourite photographers, a Mr Sansoni. Allow me to tell you about it and him.

I was sharing a beer and a chat with him and Java the other day and I asked what level of post camera processing Dom does to his images, i.e after he has taken them on the camera how much does he play around and manipulate the image in Photoshop or whatever he uses to make it look better. It's something I've been doing a bit of lately and I was interested to know his take on it.

He took out his laptop and started to show me and Java some images he had just taken on a holiday in Yemen. We were transfixed. he showed a few images in which he'd made some adjustments. the before and after versions. Now, I don't know what Java thought but I couldn't tell the difference with my clumsy amateurish drummer's eyes. Dom would show us an image after and before processing and say

"Look I changed that one quite a lot, you can see clearly."

Java and I would stare intently at the screen but I don't think either of us could see the changes. None of them were compositional changes either and that was the thing that grabbed me. I have often taken a picture then thought that I could crop seven shades of crap out of it, do all kinds of things to it and then make it into something half presentable. That is not the case with the things Java and I saw.

The raw images were spectacular to start with, they were cropped as you and I see them in books and on postcards. The changes, those very slight adjustments, are only noticed if your name starts with Sebastian and ends in Posingis. The starting image was always about fifteen steps ahead of anything I would have taken, even if I had spotted and taken it in the first place.

The picture above stuck in my mind and Java and I spent a long time peering at it. It's actually some sort of cheese that was being fried in a wok type pan in a street market. Dom had spotted it and taken its picture, I'm uncertain whether one asks a piece of cheese to say cheese or what but the picture was taken.

I think it's a bit special. I was drawn to the colours and textures within it, the richness of tone and the variety of patterns. And it's something that I almost certainly wouldn't have paid a second glance to in the street.

That's the difference.


poojitha said...

I love photography, one of the reasons i started my blog

N said...

The greats in photography definitely have a different 'eye' to the rest of us, and see great images in what we would think is mundane...hopefully it's a learnable skill!