Photographing the Moment: It’s a Vision Thing

There is one thing that photography must contain: the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough; there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.                                                               Robert Frank

What is it exactly that Frank is saying here? I think, put simply, he is telling us that for a photo to be potentially (my italics) successful, it must contain not only a moment of the life of the person or people being photographed, but it must also contain something of humanity as it was expressed in that moment.

We see a lot of Street photography that clearly is made with the intention of producing a kind of technically correct result. (Disclaimer: I’m not going go anywhere near debates such as the “sharpness in Street Photography is overrated” paradigm doing the rounds at the moment).  And of course we do have to have some technical expertise and aspirations for our photography. But oftentimes we try so hard to copy the styles of the “masters”, or the latest “trends” in street photography, or to get our heads around “zone focus”, or “depth of field” and “bokeh” and the rest,  that we, either lose sight of the vision we brought to street photography in the first place, or we deny ourselves the opportunity to develop our own unique vision and voice
But even worse than all this in my opinion is the missed opportunities to celebrate the humanity in the moments we are so fortunate to share with the people we photograph. At the same time we disrespect and objectify those people; we begin to treat them as simply one more (but not any more special than any other) element in our photos.

Now, I’m not saying that people in our photos are not to be considered as compositional, aesthetic or narrative elements; what I am saying is that at least for me, people must be the primary element. Or to put it more precisely: in order to inject humanity into our photos we have to make the moment as the people in our photos are living it the focus and the most important consideration when we make a photograph.
Not all my photos are “tack sharp” (though for me the people I photograph deserve to be seen as clearly as possible whenever possible in a way that doesn’t detract from the meaning of the moment); not all my photos are composed in accordance with the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean and the rest (though I study composition and I hope it informs that unconscious part of me that “sees” while I am in Street photography mode. Again I owe it to the people I photograph); lens aperture is only important to the extent that it allows me to show the people I photograph in the best light (to coin a phrase). No need to go on: I’m sure you get the picture (get it? picture? haha)

At the end of the day it comes down to finding a balance: My choice is to work towards a balance that favors the humans and their lived experience in my street photos, while still making a photo that is as technically good as I’m able. As Robert Frank says ‘… realism is not enough; there has to be vision.’

Peace

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