Sunday, April 11, 2010

The last couple of pictures from le Légué a few weeks ago...

... and once more pondering on photographing people.  Though there were many people quite interestingly moving around and occupied with doing things on their boats, especially those out of water, I was still shy about photographing them.

The answer would be just to do it anyway, take a lot of pictures, scattergun fashion, out of which would surely emerge a few serendipitously good ones.  I don't think many people would really mind being photographed from an distance when out in public, not wishing to invade people's privacy is a bit of an excuse for my own self-consciousness, perhaps, and for closer portraits, one can always ask.  The more powerful zoom also means I can keep my distance so they need barely know I'm there.  Something nags me that all the witty abstracts and pretty bits of nature in the world are worth little if I can't approach looking creatively at my fellow humans as part of the variety and beauty and essence of the world, though that doesn't come easily to me. 

One possibility may well be to concentrate on people who are clearly involved with something else.  Some people, it's true, have a knack for beautiful portraits which focus directly and entirely on capturing the person, but often people are most interesting when they're connected to some aspect of the world, embedded in a context, which enables the viewer to engage with them too.  Anil has been doing a couple of posts - here and here - of people reading books on the local network trains in Mumbai.  It's such a wonderful idea, I can't imagine why no one's thought of it before.  As well as the lively impression of the environment of the trains themselves, and the grace, in repose and absorption, that the act of reading bestows on the faces in the crowded, often uncomfortable trains, it gives an authentic slice of life, reflecting the concerns and fantasies of the men in their choice of books. Sometimes they are clearly aware of being photographed, sometimes he strikes up conversations with them about their reading, but not usually.  In turn the books spark memories, associations references and reflections on the part of Anil himself, then again for his readers who comment.  A truly dynamic exercise perfect for the medium of blogging, which it would be great to see more people doing around the world.  Sadly, I travel little by public transport, which this makes me rather regret.

I often find it's a lot easier to record people in an open and relaxed way if they have animals with them, as I've observed before.  They still sometimes mug and pose a bit if they catch you doing it, but the pretext that you are photgraphing the animal and not them tends to take the pressure off.

So, there was the boating bearded collie, and his owner, who, in his sailor-striped sweater, seemed rather inclined to pose even when not aware of having his picture taken.  Though actually, if you watch people when they are standing at ease, it's amusing how often they do strike that slightly camp attitude of semi-akimbo, with their hand, palm outward, at their waist or in the small of their back, a little like David Suchet as Hercule Poirot!  Or perhaps he had a slight stitch from bending and doing boaty things...

But despite determining to include the man with the dog and the boat, I couldn't help feeling that the dog alone was the nobler creature, who made a better picture.

The photo below, however,  I was pleased with, though the background is busy and distracting.  That's another problem with photographing people spontaneously, that there is less control of those things; I can't consider and manipulate angles, backgrounds and other elements of composition as easily.

A young Moslem family, taking an afternoon out, hung about with the clobber of bags and bottles attendant on babyhood everywhere (presumably), had stopped to perch for a snack and been joined by a cat.  The cat was not ingratiating but companionable, sitting back to back with them.  The parents didn't see me at all, as they were just on the point of gathering themselves to move on, but the cat and the baby, less preoccupied and more observant, look straight at the camera.  As they made to leave, the young man turned and stroked and said goodbye to the cat in a most gentle and courteous way.

Not for nothing the old showbiz adage 'never work with children and animals'.  They are, inevitably, more attractive to eye and sympathy than adult humans.  As such, they shift the focus of attention, but in terms of photographic capture, this may not be a bad thing.


Anil P said...

Thank you, Lucy, for helping push the idea along, and so convincingly too.

Like you said, when I began with the project over three years ago, it was the faces in repose, often in very crowded trains that struck me as I made my way to work and back.

There's so much that books evoke from time gone by that even in the silences between the reader and the the photographer an unspoken communication results.

It would be wonderful, as well as revealing of human choices in their public setting to see faces in repose in the context of the titles in their hands from around the world.

The last picture: The gaze of the cat in the human setting is striking. Animals are alert to the mundane of human contexts.

Thank you once again.

Zhoen said...

I used to photograph people on the trains in Boston, surreptitiously. Lovely to get them looking away, engrossed, unselfconscious. Which is why animals and children are easier, they are just looking back, not looking at you looking at them looking at you.

marja-leena said...

Interesting discussion, and makes me realize again why I rarely take photos of strangers. Anil's series of photos of humans reading on trains really is a brilliant example of the genre. I like what you've captured here, especially with the animals, who so aptly act as the best of supporting characters!

Pam said...

I love the way the cat and baby are staring right into the lens: "What are you doing?" And that dog is beautiful! You've caught his woolly charm wonderfully.

Fire Bird said...

love that last shot. and happy you've returned to normal font (size)

Lucas said...

What a remarkable photograph!The cat, the baby and the parents all individual and different. Attention in the subjects of a photograph is a really interesting concept. I am also grateful to have the link to Anil's photos. I shall revisit and revisit: great project!