"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Monday, March 15, 2010

when and what to shoot: meyerowitz

Good stuff from a Joel Meyerowitz interview I recently stumbled upon...

"I'm often asked how I know when and what to shoot. You feel it out. It's like walking on ice. You have to feel your way and use your intuition.

For me, I know when I'm there.

Simple human terms are the motivation and the response. It's like conversation. When you go to a party and you talk to somebody, you may at first stand at a social distance, or, if there's some opening from that person, and you feel connected, you may get slightly closer and speak in a more intimate way. Or if you dance with someone, you may dance close or you may dance at a social distance. You feel it out. That's what it's like when I'm photographing, I move in and out as I get called into what's happening and I try and find the right relationship to it, of course this is all happening in an instantaneous way. After all the camera has a thousandth of a second on it which means we can react and relate in those minute fragments of time. One learns to live in those here and now and then vanished moments.

It's all about seeing the things only YOU can see. After all you see everything every day, and most of it seems boring, right? But then, every once in a while you see something and it makes you have a little 'gasp', isn't that so? Just a little intake of your breath when you are startled by that small thing, or that brief moment when something in the world says, 'look at me, pay attention to ME!' Well, that's it! That's when you take the picture and when you have done that for a while you will have lots of pictures that will look only like pictures that you can see, and not like anyone else's pictures. And that's the secret. there are no rules to follow, there is only your 'instinct'.

Wherever I go, the camera is on my shoulder, and it's been like that for more than forty years. I am just there trying to be present and conscious. And at some given moment I sense that I've walked into a zone of energy that awakens me. I suddenly lose my forward momentum. There's no reason to go forward. It's not something I eyeball. It's not a bunch of red flowers, or an obvious object, it's some thing that's giving off energy. It's a force field that I enter and in it there are relationships that come together in a way that strikes me as meaningful.

Sometimes, for example, when you walk on the streets of New York, and you walk under construction scaffolding, you step out of the daylight and into the shadow, and as you pass that place where the door leads into the site you smell the presence of wet concrete, of acetylene torches, and the dust of construction. It's a very palpable, powerful smell. You step under the scaffolding and there's nothing; you hit the door and there's a smell of everything; and then you take one more step and there's nothing again. You've left the zone. All that's happened is that a current of air has rushed across the path that you're on. Photography is like that; a sliver of sensation that becomes visible in some way and then is gone, but when you were in it, it was total.

I don't mean to be mystical, but when I hit that space I say, 'Whoa, something is here. What's here?' The first thing that's there is me. I take the opportunity to see what it is that's defining me. And every time I do that I make a picture that has some special meaning to me. When I look at them afterwords, I know I was in the right place and the right time. I use that beat to allow it to come into being, to stop myself from pushing through it. Because the easiest thing is to be blind, and to keep right on rolling until you get to someplace that's a familiar, observable reality. But this is not only about an observable reality; it's a sensory reality. I trust that now, more than any other form of approach.

My central premise as an artist is to connect to my own feelings, and by so doing, when I'm really close to them, I may be able to make something that transports people back to the experience through the openness of the photograph. That's what I do, I try and disappear, and let the image do the work of transmitting the experience. I've come to understand this over 40+ years of shooting, that the heart of my work is conveying what I felt while I was briefly awakened by the moment. These 'glimpses' of reality are powerful calls to consciousness."

-- Joel Meyerowitz

(Thanks, Hub)

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