May 12, 2008 by Allen George
I recently attended a CONTACT ’08 lecture by David Hurn. A member of Magnum for over four decades, David is widely respected for the breadth and quality of his photography – especially his human interest work. It would be impossible to summarize 1.5 hours into a wordbite so I thought I’d limit my comments to two points:
- “I don’t take photographs of peeling walls – no one would be interested.” Notwithstanding his bias towards reportage, there’s truth to that statement. It’s easier to connect with pictures centered on people than with those of inanimate objects. People offer an ‘in’ to the picture’s context – you can place yourself in their shoes and, by looking at their expressions, at the visual ballet created when they’re captured in a frame, it’s more likely you’ll want to explore the photo; they create a closeness and potential for connection. With things…well, it’s harder with things. Explicating, sharing and invoking the context behind photos of things is difficult, and even with a strong visual hook it’s hard for viewers to connect. It’s almost as if the former can always rely on a shared context (your experience as a person), while the latter can only hope to invoke a shared context.
- Chimping (taking a picture and immediately reviewing it on the LCD) has destroyed the sense of exploration, or stalking a subject, that every photographer should encourage. David contends that chimping leads us to abandon the subject as soon as we’ve got something that “looks OK,” thus missing out on potentially better, deeper photos. It’s a point I agree with – and I chimp a lot. I’m aware of a mindset change the moment I review the photo I’ve just made: I judge exposure, view the histogram, evaluate framing; when I raise the camera again it’s to ‘fix’ the problems I’ve found. Skip the review and it’s all very different: your world becomes a lighted frame in a sea of black and green and for a few minutes you dance with your subject…
The lecture was more retrospective than prescriptive, which is often the case with renowned photographers; at any rate, it’s impossible to reduce the making of great photographs to a set of steps. That said, if there’s one constant I’ve noticed it’s that all the photographers I’ve heard have a great curiosity about the world.