Oh mo*jo*. Mojo mojo mojo. If this hasn’t brought the mojo back, then what will? Here is a picture that speaks to me, stronger and louder than any other RA picture before. This is photography. I love this.
But maybe I am getting over excited here. This is not a carefully set-up shot afaik, nothing divinely conceived, meticulously planned, deliberately shot. This is a shot celebrating the last day of a film shoot, and maybe I am so excited by it because in the previous photographic oeuvre of Mr A fine art photography is absent. Yes, it is, however beautiful and carefully crafted you have so far considered the photographs that have been taken of Mr A.
And that is because his photographic output consists of commercial photography. We have film stills – taken to promote and sell a film; fashion shots – made to sell clothing; the actor’s headshot – selling the talent and adaptability of the actor; press photographs – sold by the photographers to illustrate news with; portraits – selling the photographers’ expertise as much as the bankability of the subject.
You see – fine art has been largely absent from the photographs of Mr A even if I may have been carried away occasionally, pronouncing one or the other image as “art”. Previous photographs that I have hailed as particularly good were certainly exemplary exhibitions of the creator’s skill, displaying how adept they are at their craft, photography. Showing their subject in the best possible way, depending on the focus of the shoot – i.e. portraiture, fashion, press. And yes, there can be art in craft as well, as much as there is craft in art. But apart from the obvious aestheticism of Paula Parrish’s photoshoot for Fault magazine, I have not seen much that has been deliberately “artistic” so far. The portraits and stills were all characterised by the mission to sell either the subject, the subject’s project or the subject’s clothes.
This, however, does not sell the subjects’ beauty, nor their talent, nor fashion. It may vaguely sell a film, but would be unusual in that as it omits the protagonists’ faces. So all this sells is aesthetics and beauty for purely artistic, visual reasons. No fashion label attached, no particular event, no face as such. It is there to appeal to our innate sense of aesthetics, nothing else. That is what fine art photography does
Calm your mammaries, Guylty.
In a square frame we see a street scene. A brick wall provides the backdrop for the pared-back scenario. The scene is illuminated by strong sunshine, the morning or afternoon sun. Two people are walking down an incline, on a footpath. A man and a boy. They walk from right to left, looking ahead, with their bodies at an angle to us. Their steps are in sync, as is their posture, with a straight back and left arm dangling relaxed at their side.
And that is it. There is little action in this scene, no facial features recognisable, and yet there is something fascinating about this image. The synchronicity of the two people stands out first and foremost. With their steps in sync and the posture so similar, this evokes a feeling of friendship or companionship. These two people belong together, they are familiar with each other, they accompany each other – otherwise they would not be walking down the street in unison, mirroring each other.
And yet the image screams contrast and contradiction. You will find many of those in the image: Man and boy. Old and young, adult and child. Bare environment vs human life. There are the rounded shapes of the human form vs the straight lines of inanimate shapes. The cold stone vs the warm blooded-humans. It is these contradiction that makes the scene and the scenario so photographically interesting. With the lack of action, the photographer has to find another vehicle to carry meaning. We do this by looking for contrasts – both in the shapes that we see in our viewfinder, as well as in the meaning of these shapes and their relationship to each other.
I am usually a proponent of undistracting, monochrome, regular backdrops – or a blurred out background. Here we have a scene shot with a small aperture that leaves everything in focus. Subtle lines guide my attention to the scene that is documented in the shot: The figures are pictured in front of a slightly darker brick section. Their figures are contained in that. The concrete foundations of the brick wall appear like steps, and meeting with the sloped footpath, the concrete foundations create an arrow shape that point to the boy’s feet. The regular straight, parallel lines of the brick wall are broken by the diagonals of the road, footpath and curbstone. Instead of clashing with the parallel lines of the brick wall, the brighter diagonals of the footpath add interest and balance to the image. The brighter bricks at the top section of the wall and the light concrete of the footpath balance the composition, containing the “action” and the “ac-tors” in the darker middle section. Interesting: The curbstone appears as a diagonal and yet it is almost parallel to the bottom edge of the image. My eyes and my perception are challenged by this – I have to concentrate and make sense of the scene, forcing me to spend more time with the image. It *engages* me. Aesthetically, this image works. It is well-balanced in terms of composition, with the subjects off-centre, drawing more attention to them than if they were in the perfect middle.
As for one of many possible interpretations, for me this image is about the movement of time. There is the static environment in front of which an action unfolds. The figures are going down-hill. A possible – if sledgehammer – interpretation could be contained in that: going down, going to hell, going towards disaster. However, I don’t think that is the case. They have their heads held up too high, they are looking forward, not down or inwards – they are ready for another step, not hesitant. You could also argue that walking down-hill is easier than up-hill, therefore the journey is a good one, not one hampered by obstacles. They are being moved along by time – possibly also symbolized by the strong presence of the sun, the heavenly body that allows life to flourish (as evidenced by the two plants that are able to eek out a meagre existence in the cracks of the concrete – but they live!). This could be father and son – another typical analogy for time, or aging as a visible expression of time. And also an endearing, appealing visual, symbolizing the bonds of kinship, of trust and understanding, of care, protectiveness and love.
However coincidental this image may be – the photographer has a great eye for a simple, calm composition, and has been lucky – or clever – enough to release the shutter at the right moment much like in the previous (and in many ways similar) image of Mr A on set. I’d hazard the guess that it was taken by the same photographer – because format, composition, subject matter and framing of either display a clear style. This is quite possibly just a quick snap documenting the last day of the shoot, and the grown relationship between two people who worked together. Whether this is a scene from the actual film or the two actors slinking off the set in a break, the image has a simplicity and inherent message in it that make it worth looking at – beyond the fact that it has RA in it. I could easily see this image as a picture postcard, symbolizing what I have written above. Or even as a fine art print on the wall, sleekly stylized in its elegant b/w reduction to the essentials. The fact that there are no faces makes these two figures foils that we can put our own interpretations on – whether they be of a journey of hope or a friendship between two unlikely companions. Universal thoughts.
When we walk, my step falls in with yours,
trying to catch up but still glad to be behind.
To give me time to observe.
Cos you show the way and lead me along,
Your shadow anchoring me to your side.
The easy confidence of your step gives me courage
To face what is waiting for us.
Allow me to walk with you.
When we walk, I take the lead.
Not pushing, but guiding.
I am by your side to shield and protect.
But I will let you take your own steps,
Hoping that I will be the gnomon to your dial
When the time comes.