Friday, September 2, 2011

Old Snapshots: Liverpool, c. 1987-90

Recently I went through my old colour snapshots, which were taken on a point-and-shoot camera, using colour negative 35mm film. I was not looking for a hit of nostalgia. Rather, I was curious to see what I would end up with if I attempted to edit these images using more objective criteria: that is, I asked myself, 'Are any of these images interesting to me now for aesthetic reasons, without considering their content?'

Out of several hundred photographs, I found five that I thought were interesting, although their style is quite different from that of Let Us Burn the Gondolas, if 'style' is indeed the right word, given that I was entirely indifferent to such considerations at the time. This 'style' has therefore been constituted retrospectively, by a coherent editorial stance. A crucial fact is that they are quite definitely taken by a participant-observer, and not a voyeur. I can't imagine being that connected to - being that present in the midst of - a group of people now.

Like most snapshots, they are of subjects who are fully aware of the camera, and who are responding directly to its presence, in an exaggerated and even theatrical way. At least two are of scenes that were staged solely for the purpose of being photographed, and the resulting images are therefore deliberately ridiculous. Indeed, I was almost certainly laughing - or trying to stop myself from laughing - when I took them, and their principal aim was to make the viewer laugh in turn. But they don't wink at the viewer.

The first image below is, I think, the best photograph I will ever take: it could easily sit alongside one of William Klein's. It is packed with life, and the arrangement of forms it captures obviously fell apart the instant after the shutter tripped. The others aren't as good, but all of them are exciting. I had no idea what I was doing; or rather, I had no set purpose or any interest in aesthetic judgements. Viewed and edited retrospectively, the strike rate is therefore very low - less than 1% - but then the strike rate in my recent photography projects is not much better than that, at least for 35mm images.

These five photographs make an interesting contrast with the images in I Am a Pilgrim, which were shot on 35mm colour slides, without flash, in 2003 and 2004, whereas the images below were taken with automated on-camera flash in the late 1980s. I Am a Pilgrim represents an attempt to find a middle ground between these snapshots and the more formal and self-conscious approach in Let Us Burn the Gondolas.

I don't take snapshots any more.

Snapshot 1

Snapshot 2

Snapshot 3

Snapshot 4

Snapshot 5

N.B. These are very poor quality scans, which are based on recent prints I made myself on an RA-4 machine. Given the nature of the images, there did not seem much point in obsessing over quality control in either the printing or the scanning. In addition, the negatives are degraded, noticeably so in the last image.

Below is William Klein on editing (from his Contacts video project: short films in which several photographers review their contact sheets):

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