Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More Dangerous Insight

Seats, 2009

In an earlier post, I posited the idea that photographers can be sorted at least initially into two broad groups: Observers and Engagers. In my continuing quest to parse the world of photography, I address two further subsets, photographers who compose and photographers who react.

In a recent post on his blog, Glen McClure paid a sideways tribute to his wife while describing what draws a lot of us to photography:

One of my favorite things to do is wander aimlessly with my camera and as my wife Marshall always reminds me, ‘let your eyes do the work.’”

Maybe I shouldn’t have cited Glen. His work makes it clear that he’s an excellent Observer, Engager, Composer and Reactor.

But let’s get back to those of us who are little more mono-polar, at least in our photographic eyes.

I am as impressed as the next guy by exquisite photographs of carefully composed scenes. There’s no denying that some people are masters at this. But I often wonder how photographers who specialize in such work handle the unexpected opportunities that present themselves on the way to these scenes.

Do they say, “I came to shoot that stately tree over there. That’s what I’m going to do. The heck with those two rare Himalayan pandas playing on the grass in front of me.”? (Grammarians, please weigh in.)

I’m more in the model of Glen McClure’s aimless wandering. I do go out with at least some idea of what I want to do. It might be a story about a specific event I’m going to attend or merely more work on one of the several personal projects I seem to have in the works at any given time. But unless I’m out on a assignment for someone else, which is rare, I reserve the right to be distracted.

When we recently visited the High Line in New York, I’d planned to make at least one decent picture of the elevated park itself. I do have a few middling shots that I haven’t had the nerve to either show or kill off yet. Overall, though, I found my informal assignment to be more of a challenge than I’d expected. The elements just weren’t lining up in any interesting way in my eyes. (Everything I took was too expected. Now that I’ve thought about it, the next time I go there I’m going to want to shoot it from a completely different angle.)

But I did find the High Line to be a splendid platform for seeing other things, like Frank Gehry’s IAC Building—Gehry himself was even up on the High Line showing it off while we were there--and like this colorful seating area at the corner of W. Thirteenth and Washington Streets.

Maybe the defining element between those who like to compose and those of us who prefer to react is that we latter folk have shorter attention spans. We’re easily distracted. We tire quickly of too much of the same thing.

There’s probably medication for this malady. But I wouldn’t want it if was offered. I’ve interviewed a number of doctors through the years who suspect the secret to their high performance is their undiagnosed attention deficiency disorder. I’ve heard too many parents, too, of kids with ADHD complain about how dull their kids down.

If I was a schoolteacher, I’d probably appreciate some of the sharper personality edges being shaved off some of my young overactive students. But as a photographer, I don’t want to miss a thing.


  1. Well, I'm an observer, engager, composer, and reactor/(er?). Probably most observer and react(er) in the day-to-day carry-my-camera-everywhere mode, but when I go out specifically to shoot pictures in a populated place, I turn into an engager. When I have all the time in the world I become a composer. I'm almost always a composer while I'm postprocessing.

    Did you get a shot of Gehry?

  2. Love this photo! Interesting notions. It'd be curious to hear people describe themselves--I imagine many would say what Christine says--they change depending on circumstances.

  3. That's a great shot of these seats, Chris. It certainly looks thoughtfully composed to this visitor to it.

    I wonder too how much human creativity is being medicated away just to create more docile, "manageable" people, especially children. To be a master of moment has every bit as much artistic value as the carefully considered and managed composition. Sometimes, I think more. Particularly when I see what someone like Wally can do with his pen in a cafe in moments. That summation and commentary on character nailed in just a few minutes. I love the variety of your photos, I love your deep appreciation of colour. If you are slightly ADD-ed, I like it!