Below: Click on each photo to see larger sizes at Flickr.
I took about two hundred photos last Saturday, but when it came down to it, I was surprised to find how few I really felt worthy of presentation. The first two I showed in class this evening — a close-up of water exiting a drain pipe, and a shot of a signal light on an elevated subway track — were technically passable but artistically bland. More than anything, they’re examples of my modest competency in selective focus and the one-third/two-thirds rule for composing pictures, but little else. The more I learn about photography, the less interested I am in close-ups that fetishize surface textures, and the less impressed I am by well composed but basically inert subjects that don’t communicate a narrative of any particular stripe. These are two fine examples of what I don’t want to do.
Things get more interesting in the third picture, an overhead shot of a parking lot seen from an elevated subway platform in Brooklyn. I really like this one a lot, mostly because its story is at once both hidden at the edge (the tiny little car at the top) and out in the open (the numbering on the parking slots that isn’t immediately apparent as a significant factor in the story). It’s like a portrait of the only guy who had to work on a Saturday afternoon, and how they wouldn’t even give him a numbered parking spot.
Unlike many of the other shots for which I snapped sometimes dozens of pictures on Saturday, I snapped only one of these photos, and even then almost as an afterthought. It never occurred to my conscious brain that a shot of a parking lot could be as interesting as this one turned out to be. And it’s something of a fluke that it came out properly at all; I have to give myself a little pat on the back for instinctively composing that shot, really, because there wasn’t a heck of a lot of intentional framing involved. I just aimed the camera and pushed the button.
What this photo teaches me, more than anything, is that I have to look more closely when I’m shooting, that the kinds of stories I like to capture often require keenly observing the scene and interpreting what’s in front of my eyes. I feel quite lucky that I managed to take this photo at all; had I been even fractionally less engaged, I would have missed it altogether.
My fourth photo was a similar stroke of good luck; I almost don’t even remember taking it. I stepped halfway out of the subway car, just before the doors began to close, so I composed and shot the picture very quickly. I was a little surprised to see it in my ‘roll’ when I reviewed my shots at home; I wasn’t even sure if I had actually taken it myself. But I’m happy with its stark duality, its one-third/two-thirds composition, its dramatic perspective, and especially the way it suggests different worlds inside and outside of the subway car. That woman’s hand over her mouth on the left side of the composition kind of makes the whole thing for me.
The last photo is an example of the kind of picture that I’m always trying to take but rarely succeed at pulling off… and this is another case of well-intentioned failure. It has plenty of the kind of elements that, for me, make for interesting photos: off-center composition, suggestive video monitors, a human element glimpsed through industrial trappings, and a face that tells a thousands stories even from a distance. But I just couldn’t compose it properly, and I just couldn’t manage to bring it into focus before she left the frame… still, I find it far more interesting than the first two.
Finally, here’s a sixth photo that I didn’t show in class, but that I probably should have. It’s more of a joke than anything, really, and not much of a photographic feat. But it’s more entertaining, at least, than either of the first two. I shot it at a parking lot (not the same one that’s shown in my fourth photo, above) way out in Red Hook, Brooklyn:
Seriously, though, did anyone think to look for him here, at his parking spot?