Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kiss Kiss/Army of One

Kiss Kiss

The hardest thing for me about photographing something like the Folsom Street Fair is to not let it turn into a documentary work. When an event is full of characters (which Folsom is), it's very, very easy to just start shooting the individuals and call it a day. Colors and costumes do the heavy lifting, and if you're competent with a camera, you end up with a nifty record of the event.

These images are invariably garbage.

Army of OneLet me explain what I mean -- if someone came to you and said, "Give me a box of photos that tell me what Folsom is about!", you could show them to the person, and they'd ooh and ahh, and they'd get a picture in their head of what it was about. But the individual images would not, as a matter of course, be something that you'd want to revisit. You wouldn't hang them on a wall, you wouldn't show them to friends who knew what Folsom was about -- they could just sit in that box, or on that Flickr group, waiting for the next person who wanted to know the score. Add to this the fact that so much of Folsom is about shock and spectacle, and the seduction of doing this can be almost irresistible. I'm sure I succumbed at least a little.

Let me tell you about the sort of images I wanted to make though, and hopefully you can see what I mean.

About a week before Folsom, I went to a gallery where I got to see a lot of Diane Arbus' portraits hanging on the wall. My reaction to seeing these portraits was the same as my reaction to Garry Winogrand's street photography: I could look at my own work, or even portraits of some pretty decent photographers, and if you tried to compare them, you wouldn't even be on the same planet. Seeing an Arbus photo work was a little like saying "I'm heading up to San Francisco" -- only, it'd be like stepping out of your house, hopping onto a rocket ship, going to the moon, looking at San Francisco through a telescope, then being hurled by a mass driver down into Dolores Park. You may not agree with the photos. You may not even like them. But it would be impossible to deny that the process at work was wholly different to the world you came from.

I can only dream about taking portraits that do this. But I do know if your portrait is going to step past being just a documentary work, you have to do more. You have to get some sort of connection with your subject -- you have to hyper-control the scene or be hyper-sensitive to nuance to detect when their real character is going to shine through. I know if I can do that even a little, I like what comes out a lot more.

The two images here aren't perfect, and I only had a minute or two to get my shot. I feel like I connected to them in the time that I had -- and while I don't feel like they took me to the moon, they did at least get me a few feet off the ground.

1 comment:

  1. "Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize." —Yousuf Karsh