You Are The Lens

Image ~ A picture –  Infiltrates the mInD

You Are The Lens
You Are The Lens

When a photograph is taken it is the photographer not the camera who composes the image, adjusts the exposure and finally gently presses the shutter button.

It is a simple task – there is no real difficulty any modern camera is capable of recording the most detailed images.  I use an old Canon 5d and a new 50mm f1.4 lens this combination is able to capture detail beyond any film camera I have used.  Up to a few years ago I owned what is still considered to be a fantastic camera – The Hasselblad Super Wide my goodness its an excellent tool – And, I’m pleased I do not own it now.  What a hassle (perhaps the name Hasselblad foretold the future?) – Film, exposure meter, developing the film and the darkroom’s enlarger to print the image.

I can take a picture and if I so desired, the image can be viewed on the internet in 5 minutes or less.  The old Canon and the Superwide are nothing more than boxes containing the recording equipment and it is the LENS which allows the image to be focussed on the film or the digital sensor of the camera. Many experts lead you to believe the lens is more important than the camera – The fact is if you have the finest Leica lens and its out of focus its as useless as a toy camera.  You may have the best brain and six degrees of intelligence.  If you cannot focus on your work and use your wisdom clearly your a 31 I.Q zombie.

Most of the sharp, perfectly exposed and golden thirds composed images I take are sterile, too precise.  The brilliant pictures I see are not always in FoCUS or PErfEcTlY exposed!  The pictures which interest are often taken with a  phone – The so called wake-up selfie has zoomed around the world because people wanted to see what their favourite celebrities look like when they wake up. These picture do not ‘tell’ a story, they are records of an event.  Its an important consideration.

Pictures taken of a dolphin being killed by Japanese fishermen cause me more pain than any of Don McCullin’s War pictures (some of which are out of focus!) This is not to write his catalogue of work does not effect me, his work is incredible,  his printing…’knock out’ and it does nothing for me!  In my mind the images recorded by McCullin and other war photographers make them thieves of their subjects pains, sufferings and deaths – without the suffering of those in the images there would be nothing and the impact of the imagery is the suffering depicted, not the ability of the photographer – Consider as well that war still continues, so the argument that anti- war is the purpose is as weak as my tea- Although the images, become a terrifying truth of mans inability to work for peace and exposes his ability to design the weaponry which work for war – The war photographer is part of the news recording system, not a conduit of peace.

And in the same way the fisherman murders the dolphin – The soldier will kill the terrorist –  The terrorist the child and the photographs do nothing or it seems very little to change the madness. Or does it enrage and perpetuate the murder?  Is the war photograph’s spirit that of blood?

A short story IS not a photograph – no story is!  Nor is a photograph a story. What is happening when we look at photograph?  The viewer is making an interpretation of a moment in time.  Is the life journey of the child who is photographed moments after his parents have been killed by the AK47’s bullet followed? No, no, no the photographer does not – How do you know the indignity of the photographers intrusion has not twisted the child to become a terrorist? You can not be certain.  I’m a writer I think – I ask what effect could this action have upon those involved?

And yet, as I look at the work of Eve Arnold my mind is simulated to ‘Wow there is an artist at work’ Am I right?  I do not know! What I do know is no one will tell me what I like or not.  I like the technique of McCullin’s  pictures – The pictures are interesting ‘for a moment’ and I can only remember his image of the ‘soldier in the morning’ his record of events do not inspire me to look at the WHOLE of his work or buy one of his books – I’m right in MY mind – could well be wrong in YOUR mind.

Lets go back to Eve Arnold – In 1978 she is with Bruce Chatwin ( himself no photographic slouch) – Together they are following Mrs Indira Ghandi on her election campaign.  Chatwin writes in his book ‘What Am I Doing Here?’ That the great photographer complains that one 0f 100 or more rolls of film she exposed one was ‘a dud (see below)’ – I am assuming that she used 35mm and there are 36 exposures on a roll that equates to 3600 images.  If you go onto the Magnum photographers site you will discover some of these images.  Three are worth looking at.

  1. – Mrs G asleep on a plane.
  2. – Mrs G weighing herself.
  3. – Mrs G surrounded by journalists.
100 + rolls of Film
100 + rolls of Film

The question is could you have taken these pictures?  Yes, you could ~ If you had had the photographic landscape and Mrs G as your model.  The hard truth is, place, situation and people are the key to the image and record enough images you’ll take a fire cracker.

When I look at the images of Maryilin Monroe which Eve Arnold took on the set of the 1961 film the ‘Misfits’ and the previous ten years of images of Monroe captured by Arnold – I feel many of the picture are ‘alive’ and there is a story within each one.

Bruce Chatwin’s observations about his time with Mrs Ghandi and Eve Arnold titled – ‘On The Road With Mrs G’ – which became the Sunday Times Magazine article published on the 30th of July 1978 is a brilliant piece of journalism and it is interesting to reflect after reading it, that this article is the result of six weeks of work.  This indicates there can be a massive time investment in a good piece of writing.

My writers tools are, camera, audio recorder and notebook – I photograph an image and write its past, future, probabilities, possibilities – The camera and the notebook record the initial memory, impression, feelings and I make them into a story.

And we, incidentally learn something in this article about Bruce, who’s famed for his use of the ‘Moleskine’ notebook, he used a tape recorder.  If you know anything about the notebook craze you will understand the significance of this, if you do not I’ll guide you – Most believe he made a few notes and drew a few sketches and his books were written from these small snippets of information, this is probably true, and why many believe many of the encounters in the travel books are fictitious!  When it mattered and the information had to be accurate its evident he tape recorded the events.  The writer is able to use every tool available to get the story – I use my recorder on bus journeys. in cities,  in Nevada desert.  I record as much information as possible and re-listening, re-viewing and re-reading –  takes me to the memory of how I felt.

B. Chatwin uses Tape Recorder
B. Chatwin uses Tape Recorder

The clearer I make my view of life the better a story writer I become.  The more I distort what is seen, the more difficult it is for a reader to understand my description.  A writer is the lens and the camera and he writes what he has recorded into fiction, fact or articles.

Are words more expressive than the picture?  In my mind. Yes – Does the picture speak a 1000 words?  In my mind. No.

If you’re a writer you are the lens and camera… Be careful where you sharpen your focus.

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