Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Skiing and Photography

Friends in temperate climes have been passing round photos of their snowy holidays.

In winter (and early spring), Lord Alfred Rhyme-alot Tennyson might have noted had he not been such a whinger, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of downhill skiing, the crackling crunch of snow on the slopes and the smell of pine and cowpat. Especially if a stash of old photo albums has recently been unearthed:
Adelboden, Switzerland
Here I crashed into a cushiony lass with flaming ginger hair, who laughed and said it wasn't the way to meet good Irish girls.

Ruka, Finland
Cross-countrying with the sort of friends who would, if you'd fallen on your butt, rush to take a photo of you in unglam positions before deigning to render any help.

Turku, Finland
Apparently good for the circulation: first, sweat it out in a mega-sauna, then when you can't bear it any longer, rush down the stone stairs, slippery with ice, and plunge into the lake, itself barely prevented from freezing over by the bubbling pipes below. Repeat until all you can do is stumble home and sleep 'til morning.

Ski Jumping and the Slow Boat to Sweden
Ski-jumping and the slow boat to Sweden.

But in Singapore, however, it is the season for joyous unions again. Last wedding season, photographer duties spawned a small industry with offers of S$1,000 a gig "or whatever else you want to quote". A few gigs would have paid for a nice DSLR, easy. (I'm looking at you, D200 with a 85mm Nikkor lens.)

(Yes, the doubtful taste of some wedding couples indeed. More evidence that love truly foists upon its unsuspecting victims a horrible blindness.)

Unfortunately, being in the midst of an existential crisis of photographic dimensions, I was unable to take advantage of any ongoing poorsightedness.

Why take photographs?

The image reproductive character of photography makes it obvious that a primary function of photography is documentative: this is how I look, this is how he/she looks, this is how the place looked, this happened and this is how it looked etc.

But photographs rarely remain any more objectively documentative than paintings. Consciously or unconsciously, photographs are the photographer's interpretation of reality. By the framing of the photograph, by the use of light, angles and depth of field, by choosing a shutter speed, the photographer betrays his opinion of the subject. Even a photo of one person can be narrative; think: portraitists like Annie Leibovitz or Steve McCurry.

Susan Sontag, not a photographer herself, acerbically opined that the camera is a way of dealing with the strangeness of reality: a tourist whips out his device in a foreign land so that he will remain safe behind its lens, not overwhelmed by the foreign-ness. Ultimately, she thought, a photographer would become an addict, getting his fix from the segregation and partition of reality within his frame. Elsewhere, she also thought of the camera as a tool of power, where the subject is naked and the photographer is protected:
there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. (On Photography)
It is possible, however, that visual image-as-imposition-of-subjective-narrative is not the sole prerogative of the photographer but is also a construct of the viewer who takes a stillshot of reality and deduces, explains and inserts into it his own value system and worldview. And a photograph is vague enough to lend itself to being co-opted to evidence vastly disparate viewpoints.

Personally, I have no more philosophy of photography than I have technique. The only thing that precedes the depression of the shutter release button is the inner bimbo squealing,"Ooo, that's pretty!"

(Of course, the issues of prettiness, beauty and aesthetics themselves constitute a huge and different kettle of fish.)

But there is a certain sense of sadness/wistfulness that accompanies the clicking of the shutter. Perhaps the reason why we take photographs is to grasp, however desperately, a frozen slice of the Heraclitic passing of time: the smile of a baby, the best chum in school, the highlight of a dorm party, the start of a life together... Perhaps photos are fundamentally an acknowledgement of the inevitability of change and ultimately, our mortality and our inability to truly control our lives and eventually, our deaths. Momento mori - the perfect name for a future photo studio.

Anyhows, "serious" photography on hold till this gets a little more sorted!

*In addition to Sontag, Vilém Flusser's also a fairly interesting read.

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At April 24, 2007 3:18 pm , Blogger Yegritos said...

Muy divertido


At April 25, 2007 12:06 am , Anonymous cupboard said...

i always saw photography as a useful shield. and now mayhap, some expression of whatever creative juices within. cough. cough.

i want to see new photos from you!

At April 30, 2007 2:24 am , Blogger paddychicken said...

Susan Sontag was not a photographer??? She wrote my textbook!!

At April 30, 2007 12:39 pm , Blogger shadow said...

cupboard: eh, i want exotic locales! But no raisins please.

paddy: You studied photography?

Well, she was in a committed relationship with Annie Leibovitz so knowledge by osmosis?

At May 01, 2007 2:26 am , Anonymous hubbard cupboard said...

i still have raisins in my office stash. u want i bring.

more pretty pictures at url i gave u. hur hur.

where's yours? exotic locale a la saigon?


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