When I went into the City to pick up the Elmar I introduced here a while back, I naturally brought a camera with me. I took the Leica IIIg with the Serenar 28/3.5 on it, with the idea that I would switch over to the new Elmar once I had it. On my way across town from Grand Central, I naturally passed through Bryant Park, one of my standard stops when shooting in NYC; there’s always something worth photographing there. Because I had the 28 on the camera, I also went into the adjoining NY Public Library and took a few shots of the architecture, which you can’t really do very effectively with anything longer. Having completed the transaction that got me the Elmar and screwing it onto the camera, I made my way back to the train, passing again through Bryant Park to try out the new lens. I stayed outside this time, but it was a nice day around lunchtime and there was no shortage of activity.
As a general rule, I prefer not to start these little missives off with other people’s words, but all rules have exceptions. Henri Cartier-Bresson said “The only joy in photography is geometry. All the rest is sentiment.” He was, if I understand correctly, talking about subtle interactions of form and composition that provide structure and order to photographs. This complex, delicate concept was practiced, if not explained, by other well-known photographers of the 1920s-1950s, perhaps none more effectively than Andre Kertesz; look at his “Fork” or “Chez Mondrian” for proof.
In my own explorations, I have found these thoughts to be useful in guiding my own approach. Developing such vision as the Old Masters is frankly out of reach for the vast majority, and I have no pretensions to it, but their influence is certainly felt. As part of my Vemödalen Project, I have been exploring questions of geometry, but in a very much simplified and somewhat abstracted fashion. Faintly (very faintly) echoing Kertesz’s studies of mundane objects, I have been experimenting with tight compositions of individual or small groups of objects, trying to get the most out of subjects that may be of little intrinsic interest.
This is an illuminating exercise. Removing most of the things photographers are usually attracted to – interesting subjects, perfect light, and such – forces one to look at the most basic elements of a scene and work to extract whatever can be found in the most efficient possible manner. It’s hard, but then the only things worth doing usually are. In some cases, this lends itself to authentic representation, with the subject readily identifiable within the photo; in others, abstraction at some level offers greater opportunities. But in all cases, geometry is key. My results thus far are very graphical, and focus on constructing (and sometimes repeating) simple shapes, often with relatively high contrast.
These photos are just a few recent shots taken with this conceptual approach in mind. Enjoy.