A few weeks ago I attended a photography workshop at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai. Organized by Goa Center for Alternative Photography, it was called ‘The Entire Story in a Single Image’ and was conducted by Andreas Rost, a German curator and photographer. Even though the workshop was only for one weekend (half a day of theory, half a day of shooting and one day of review), I learnt a lot in those couple of days.
During the workshop, we were given a fantastic guided tour of the exhibition “Leap in Time’ at the Max Mueller Bhavan which consisted of images shot by Erich Solomon and Barbara Klemm. As Andreas gave us a lowdown on the black and white photographs, it dawned upon us that while they may have looked simple to the casual viewer, it slowly became apparent that there was a lot of story behind each one. Dissecting and reviewing Erich and Barbara’s work was the first step for us in our journey of recognizing and understanding the importance of the story in an image. Andreas pointed out that it is vital for every image to convey something beyond the literal, otherwise you may want to question why you choose to take that particular photograph in the first place. He went on to explain that capturing the attention of the viewer beyond the initial 5 to 10 seconds is an essential part of photography and for beginners, it is helpful to try to create similar images like the great photographers before you establish your own style.
On a personal level, as I grow older and mature as a photographer, I am learning to understand the importance of the story behind and image and the emotions it conveys (which can range from joy to sorrow to pain). By default, people want images to ‘wow’ them, they feel happy for a few moments and move on. But I want my images to stay beyond those few moments. I want them to relive the story of the image again and again, spurring them to look at their own lives and perhaps take an action to improve for the better. I want my images to linger in their head.
The internet and an abundance of information has given rise to the practice of quick viewing of an image before skipping through to the next one. People want to be “wow-ed” by an image in the first instance and then they move on to the next image before even allowing the emotion of the previous one to sink in. In our busy lives, we rarely take the time to understand the story and emotions behind the image. This is indeed a reflection of wider change in society where we expect instant satisfaction and have largely forgotten the concept of delayed gratification. Unfortunately, this also encourage images that have instant face value but maybe nothing more than that. As Andreas had said at the workshop, “a photo of a man at a bus stop has to be something more than a photo of a man at a bus stop.”
In contrast to this, the traditional medium of prints gives the viewer time to pause and ponder, allows them to appreciate the story in the image, makes them think and leaves them with an emotion or opinion. Photography becomes a well deserved break from the fast paced life and a reminder to not madly chase some towards an unknown goal. It is vital for us to slow down once in a while and take the time to observe the world around us. It is also a lesson to observe a picture beyond the obvious, shoot such images that build intrigue, let the viewer work his way through the image and interpret it in their own way. As a photographer, we need to understand the subconscious impact of small things in the image – choice of colour, subject placement, expression, posture and form, edges of frame – since they all come together to impart a certain story and emotion to the viewer.
What has all of this taught me? To continue shooting and a reminder that you don’t need fancy gadgets to be a great photographer.
Currently listening to – Ordinary Love by U2