Reflections on Photography

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»It’s a question of concentration. Concentrate, think, watch, look and, ah, like this, you are ready. But you never know the culminative point of something. So you’re shooting. You say, “Yes. Yes. Maybe. Yes.” But you shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much.« Henri Cartier-Bresson

I couldn’t agree more to these words. Here are some notes and thoughts from my sketchbook, written over years in photography – and also topics of my upcoming workshops:

If you focus on focus you probably can’t focus.
Too much reflections on camera settings and gear block your attention for life in front of your camera. Think. But don’t overintellectualize. Sense and trust in intuition, for too much reflection can be a serious drawback on the way to deeper insights.

Make your individual choices due to your vision, ideas and concept about images.
I’m definitely not talking about shutter speed, focal length and aperture here. Vision starts before you even grab your camera to make photos. And vision is more about you and your attitude towards life then about camera settings, lenses and post production.

Slow down.
In terms of frames: Why using your camera as a kind of machine gun to make your choices among hundreds and thousands of crappy frames that mirror sloppiness in many aspects? Make your choices, concentrate and focus on each frame you take. See. Listen instead of talking. Silence is a great teacher.
In terms of gear: Great photos don’t necessarily result from the most expensive, presumably »best« camera gear. Your camera is nothing but a tool to make your vision visible to others. But also a tool to learn how to see without a camera. (And certainly this is not a one way road…)

Be familiar with your camera.
Imagine being blindfolded while changing camera settings or grabbing another lens from your camera bag. You fail? Try again. RTFM. Sort your thoughts as well as your camera bag. You still fail? Try harder. And again. You manage that challenge? Great. Go on, make photos. Every day. It’s that simple.

Know who you are.
It’s possibly the most important challenge a photographer could face. Richard Avedon said »My portraits are more about me then about the people I photograph.«. True. The question is not who you are as a photographer – but as a person. Your vision mirrors every tiny bit of you and what you stand for; it reflects your very personal limits, skills and emotions, including uncertainty, anxiety, sulkiness – and your photography does as well.

Get close and in touch.
It’s common to (mis)interprete Robert Capa’s famous quote »If your photos are not good enough you were not close enough.«. Being close doesn’t necessarily mean the aspect of physical distance – but mostly emotional distance. Get in touch, with a look into someone’s face and eyes. Smile. Start a conversation. It’s not that difficult, it’s about mutual respect and trust before you slam your 35mm lens, camera and yourself into someone’s face. With a regard the previous point here: Treat others the way you wish them to treat you. It’s that simple. (Greetings from my Prussian grandmother, by the way.)

Empty your eye memory from rubbish.
Unblock your mind, embrace blankness and open up for imagination instead. Learn about and train the power of perception and observation. Shut your eyes in order to see – referring to Paul Gauguin’s wise words from a painter’s perspective. (And also delete that hoarded tons of crappy, blurry, poorly exposured photographs from your computer…)

Just looking at something is not enough.
Observe. Be attentive with all senses. The more you see beyond the surface, the less equipment you need. The image follows your vision.

Again: Slow down.
Take your time. Thinking of Saul Leiter here: »… in no great hurry.«
Slow down the speed of chronos for the chance of kairos (the greek term Καιρός fits Henri Cartier-Bresson’s »decisive moment«).

Zen is a great concept in life. And also in photography that results from life (which is much more important at the end of the day, though).

Additional links:
»There Are No Maybes« – A great interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson.
»Thusness and Image« – A book by photographer Dennis Cordell who focuses on the image as a form of contemplation.
»Kairos – Phenomenology and Photography« by Chan-fai Cheung (book review on Knut Skjaerven’s blog, e-book available here)
»In No Great Hurry« – »In No Great Hurry – 13 Lessons In Life« is an inspiring film and portrait about photographer Saul Leiter.