A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture


Artist Li Wei flies high in his photos

Flying with KLM last week, I found a funny picture in the inflight magazine. Chinese artist Li Wei makes impossible pictures (no PhotoShop but real-world tricks!) ‘to tell people that nothing is impossible’. He’s got a website full of them: Liweiart-works_photo.

Screendump Li Wei

Copy of Li Wei ‘Arrow of Love’ (2009)

Doing archery as a hobby, I was of course intrigued by his ‘Arrow of love’–and could not help but observe that the bow is held wrong-way around… Never mind, the idea remains fun, and the question ‘how did he do it?’ remains intriguing, too!


Robert Capa’s Dead Soldier: Truth or Fame?

The solution to the question if Robert Capa’s iconic picture of a Loyalist soldier dying in the Spanish civil war in the 1930s was true or false was the subject of an article in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on October 9 (the article itself is not in the public part of the website–sorry!). It was a long article, so the answer was not simple.

First of all, the answer did not come from the ‘Mexican suitcase’, the suitcase full of negatives made by Capa that surfaced in 2008 in Mexico. The negative of the famous photo was not there; it has been missing for years. Second, the state of the art on this question will forever remain a matter of debate between experts and would-be experts. It is, so much we can take from the discussion, probably not a photo of a soldier dying in a large-scale action. Probably Capa went on a small tour with a group of soldiers for a photo shoot; it was a staged photo. Some stories have it that the man in the picture was shot by a sniper at the moment Capa pressed the shutter–to my mind too good a story to be true. It was said that Capa himself never claimed it was a picture ‘at the moment of death’.

The impression of authenticity of the photo may have been a trick: Capa may have made a slightly unfocused photo on purpose (no autofocus in those days, of course!), and moved his hands a bit to give the impression he himself was diving for safety while pressing the shutter.

And then there is the role of the press. Capa’s picture was first published September 1936 in two French magazines, Vu and Regards. In Vu they published a whole series of the young photographer (he was 22 at the time and not yet famous) with poetic, symbolic captions going with the photos. When the same picture was republished later in world-famous magazine Life in the USA, July 1937, there was a much more dramatic caption, talking about the photo being made at the moment the soldier was killed. Being published in Life, and with such a dramatic caption, were the occasion for Capa to become world-famous–and he did not say that the caption going with his photo was not truthful. He did not even lie, he just did not tell ‘the whole truth’. What would I have done–what would you have done–if fame suddenly beckons?

Footnote: the picture can be found on many websites so have a look at Google or better the Wikipedia if you do not know it, but is copyrighted.

Photographers, be free!

When we heard Frank Boots, spokesman of the jury and president of the national association BNAFV, explain his judgements on the photos in the regional contest, two remarks stood out for me.

The first was that amateur photographers are not accountable to anyone. We should feel free to make any photo we like. He did not go into that any further, but he must have meant something like our not being bound to be faithful to nature or facts, since we are not journalists or documentary photographers. Nor are we bound by the canons of art—Mr. Boots made this remark as something coming out of a public discussion he had had with a museum director. That part of his implication was not so clear to me: I thought that if any group were good at breaking canons and being free, it was artists.

His second remark was that there were typical camera club pictures: details of buildings, dilapidated window sills, and similar still-life pictures. Or portrait and model pictures that were neat, pretty-pretty. Mr. Boots wanted more than that, wanted something ‘crazy’, something personal, something (in the words of last year’s jury in the same regional contest) ‘authenticity’.

The photo that goes along with this blog, then must be an homage to camera club traditions, but after his remarks I did put it through Lightroom once more to make it something a little more personal. I’ll spare you the details, but in the words of Dolly Parton, ‘it takes a whole lotta money to look this cheap’—it took me a whole lot of fiddling around to make it look this cheap. By the way, the photo was made last week in Vietnam, just a wall on a street in Bat Trang, a village near Hanoi.

Raindrops on a window–a window of opportunity

Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami published a book with major publisher Gallimard, called Pluie et vent (Rain and wind), filled with photos of one night’s rainstorm. The little note about the book in Air France‘s inflight magazine (Nov. ’08) went accompanied by a photo much like one I saw from Mr. E. in my photoclub, of raindrops on a window pane–his was nicer because he had mini-mirrors of the brick pattern of a wall a few metres behind the wet window. And just for fun, I add some drops from this afternoon’s rainshower on my home window…

It’s just that we amateurs don’t think of turning such pictures into a book. Is seeing such a commercial window of opportunity the difference between amateurs and (successful) artists? (Damien Hirst was mentioned on the same page of the inflight magazine–talking of commercial windows of opportunity…)