A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture


Winners World Press Photo 2013 :: nrc.nl

The winners of the best press photos of last year were announced today. Overall winner was Paul Hansen with a picture of a funeral in Gaza: two kids, killed in a rocket attack, are carried by men whose faces express terrible grief–and anger. Together with the almost haunting light, the atmosphere of the picture is very intense.

The light effect sets this picture apart for me. Of course, being a press photo, there is no elaborate studio lighting to create such an effect. If I see it right, the photographer made smart use of light falling through a (broken, or newly-built?) window on the left, while the grey concrete wall on the right helped light up the dark side, acting as a reflection screen. To see that light, while walking backwards, almost with your nose and your wide-angle lens in the faces of crying, angry men and–even worse–dead children!

Of course, the rest of the winners in the different categories are also worth looking at. You can see them here (captions in Dutch–sorry, folks!):
Winnaars World Press Photo 2013 :: nrc.nl.

But this overall winner will stay in my mind for a long time, I fear.


Photo quotes

Here’s a link to 25 famous quotes about photography.

If you don’t read Dutch, don’t worry and just skip to the quotes–they’re all in English. (Though I bet Henri Cartier-Bresson’s must have been French in the original).

Zo’n bekende foto komt niet vanzelf tot stand: Obama’s omhelzing voor de ‘Four more years’ tweet

Leuk stukje in NRC Handelsblad over hoe de nu zo bekende foto van de omhelzing van Michelle en Barack Obama tot stand kwam. Fotograaf Scout Tufankjian zei onder meer over de foto die hij al in september maakte: ‘Omdat ik nogal een softie ben en zelf ook kort geleden ben getrouwd, vind ik hun relatie inspirerend; ze hebben respect voor elkaar. Dus ik probeer ze altijd te benaderen als een koppel, en niet als publieke figuren.’
Het artikeltje in de NRC is hier te lezen.

Famous photographers get away with anything? Nieuwe foto’s ‘prachtige Beethovenstraat-meisjes’ Ed van der Elsken gevonden – Cultuur – VK

Nieuwe foto’s ‘prachtige Beethovenstraat-meisjes’ Ed van der Elsken gevonden – Cultuur – VK.

A Dutch newspaper announces that more pictures in a famous series have been found from Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken. His three hip young women, crossing the street in stride, became a sort of icon of the sixties. Now more pictures from the series have been found, which may help to find the women who were in it.

I was too young to know about that iconic picture, I guess and saw it for the first time reproduced here in the newspaper. I agree, it was a snapshot taken at exactly the right moment.

But how can famous photographers get away with pictures where the feet are cut off? While the red and shoes certainly add to the picture! Or is it the bad lay out of the newspaper that did it? I am not sure, but a picture with such composition errors would not get through my selection for postprocessing, let alone showing to others…

Beauty is in the photograph, not the gear

“Beauty is in the photograph, not the gear. Lenses matter, but even today’s kit lenses are capable of creating beautiful photographs. … And if the best thing people say about my work is, “Wow, it sure is sharp,” then I’ve failed and the lens is irrelevant.”

Highly quotable statement from David DuChemin in his blog.

DIY-photos in magazines: authentic or trite?

A weekly had asked its female readers to send in their best pictures of their husband (partner, or whatever politically-correct term you want). Many sent a picture of hubby in bed with a cat. Maybe those were the pictures that made these readers happiest. But if you then make it into a policy of your magazine to use only pictures made by its readers instead of professionally-made photos, will you get ‘authentic’ content or just trite DIY-pictures?

This discussion I read about in my newspaper got going because a magazine for young parents wants to use only illustrations it gets from its readers. The main argument from the magazine’s editor is that in this way the pictures will be more authentic and ‘de-glamourised’. I can agree with their point, and also with the other point they made, namely that small children are so spontaneous and that parents can capture those moments better in natural situations at home than professional photographers who always intrude into the natural situation.

An old example from my own experience (scanned from an analogous photo): a pro would not have got that relaxed-curious attitude from my daughter.

A professional photographer made the counterargument of triteness, using the anecdote of the hubby & cat pictures. Amateur photographers simply lack the imagination and the vision that a professional photographer brings to the scene.

Looking at (too many of!) my own pictures, I must agree with the counterargument, too: my pictures may be too conventional, not surprising enough. Or just made too lazily, as when I do not want to take the trouble of getting down on my knees to get a better perspective, or when I do not want to set up a tripod to get better sharpness.

And I also agree that getting the imagination and vision is largely a matter of training. But I don’t agree that only professionally-schooled photographers have that training. A lot of advanced amateur photographers have that too. Sometimes my own pictures are not too bad, and I see others’ which are much better, also among my internet friends—no professional would be ashamed of them!

Finally, there is more to photographic vision than training; maybe there is such a thing as talent. I’m thinking, for instance, of my own daughter, who without any training sometimes went out with her simple compact camera and then shot really good pictures. But she too has her share of conventional, boring pictures—a bit more training or experience would help! She has her own DSLR now… Still, here comes a little example of what she made from an inspired day in a museum.

Erwin Olaf shoots (or paints?) like Rembrandt

Dutch star photographer Erwin Olaf produced (for want of a better word) a series of pictures inspired on the Relief of Leiden, a defining moment in Dutch 17th century history. His pictures are inspired by paintings from that time. I see a mix of Vermeer and Rembrandt: the baroque atmosphere of Rembrandt, with a more serene light like Vermeer’s.

The photo series Erwin Olaf schildert Leids Ontzet :: nrc.nl shows some of those pictures and ‘making of’ shots. Olaf and his team are shooting individual portraits which will be integrated into huge compositions.

Olaf’s pictures are exhibited in Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden, in the festivities around Leiden’s Relief, celebrated with all kinds of events in 5 days around October 3. Starting today!

Information on "De Dag van de Fotografie"

For my Dutch and/or Dutch-speaking readers: Er komt op 21 oktober een Dag van de fotografie. Uiteraard in Amsterdam. Deze Dag van de Fotografie belooft veel evenementen rond fotografie en wordt georganiseerd door fotobureau Hollandse Hoogte. Veel van de activiteiten zijn voor foto-professionals, maar ook voor amateurs is er van alles: een fotoboekenmarkt, een fotoquiz, workshops, enzovoorts.

Ik ben dan nog eventjes heel ver van Nederland. Wie laat me weten hoe het was?

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.

Doubling by halving: f/1.4 instead of f/2.8 and artistic sense

Jeffrey Friedl’s most recent post was about a French photographer and author, Stéphane Barbery, who borrowed Jeffrey’s camera for a while because he wanted to enjoy ‘a thin depth of field with my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 that his current camera can’t match.’ That’s even less of depth-of-field, or more selective sharpness, than f/2.8, especially with Jeffrey’s full-frame camera! By halving the aperture number, the selectivity of sharpness is doubled–as a figure of speech.

Are those lenses more affordable in Japan, where he lives, or is he just fanatic about maximum light and miminum depth-of-field? Anyway, it makes me jealous–not because of the price or the weight (both must be tremendous), but because of the photographic possibilities it gives.

What also makes me jealous is how this Stéphane Barbery has a very different sense of photographic beauty. Friedl discusses a ‘throw-away test shot’ that Barbery made and that he finds beautiful. So did I. Have a look here; it also gives links to Barbery’s web site–worht a look too!