Saturday, June 25, 2016

Human interest

"... you can take refuge in the belief that human beings are ultimately the only subjects worth photographing. The 'Family of Man'. I think you already know what I'm going to say about that conceited notion. Today, we are assaulted on every side by photographs of people. They leer at us from newsstands and advertising hoardings. We have become obsessed by the visual appearance of the body and the face. Portrait and figure photography is picture taking at its most pathological.

"The inescapable fact is that the world is a human world. The human being is in every photograph you take, whether you actually see a human being there or not, just because the photograph was taken by a human being. But that is not news. The common factor, factors out." (Metaphysics of the Photograph)

What if, occasionally, a human being walks — or runs — into the frame? Is that no longer allowed by our strict aesthetic? (This was never intended to be an 'aesthetics of photography' but never mind!)

It makes no difference. That's the point. Let them appear. Let the figures do their little dance. The human is there, in the frame, whether any human being is visible or not.

The pictures I used to take — decades ago — had genuine human interest. That is to say, that was their point. Things have moved on since then.

(I tried some classic 'news photography' recently at a Veterans day in Sheffield but none of the images move me even though it was competently done.)

I'm not interested in who these people are, or what they are thinking or feeling. (There's a funny story about the fifth image. A security guard was politely telling me off for taking photos of a government building — he didn't notice that I'd continued shooting.)

Then, why?

The thought came to me: these people are unwittingly co-operating in the process of making a picture, inserting themselves in just the right place in the frame. It's one of the photographer's conceits or tropes (which doesn't make it a cliché). The only difference is that I am making a point of it.

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