Sunday, 8 August 2010


In photography as with many other arts and crafts there is often a fine line between what works and what does not. It is my belief that the position of this line can be determined to some extent by 'Intentionality'. What I mean by this is that if it is clear to the viewer that a picture is meant to look the way it does then they will view it differently.

This concept crops up mostly when things that are traditionally seen as faults are included in the picture; things like softness, grain, over exposure, blurring or vignetting.

The fact is though that these things have a look about them and, personally, I feel that if the 'look' I am looking for will be better achieved by using them then that is what I will do.

Obviously this needs to be done carefully though, sometimes it needs to be done to make a visual point, sometimes to evoke an emotion and of course sometimes it just makes a good picture. It is vitally important if you want to pull this off that it is clearly intentional - that is what 'Intentionality' means.

If you are going to have deliberately out of focus elements in your composition like in my picture of Whitehall above, make sure that they are out of focus enough (but if they need to be recognizable then not too soft). If you want to make grain an important feature of your picture don't go half way, use a really grainy film and if necessary a grey filter to reduce the light, the Grass seed was shot with Portra 800 on 35mm because I knew it would go far enough.

Movement is one of the hardest things to do well, but it is also, to my mind, the most important since a moving subject photographed pin sharp and frozen in time looses all of its dynamism and photography is so good at catching that. The picture of Horseguards was taken with a Holga 35mm Pinhole camera using about a 4 second exposure - I think it captures the cold, wet January day fairly well and the swirling mass of tourists contrast nicely with the horse and rider - nothing is sharp but it does not look like it is meant to be... The concert was something arranged by a friend of my son Jim, this guy performs as 'The House of John Player" and he was pretty amazing, sampling and mixing live. I could not hope to capture the music photographically but with a little imagination I think I have caught the atmosphere, in this case using an iPhone and some lateral thought.

If what you like are photographs where everything is sharp and technically correct then that is absolutely fine by me. I have a different view though: Photography is brilliant because it allows us to capture things in a way that we are not able to do with our eyes. We see, if we are lucky, everything in focus - photography allows you to choose what is in focus. We see everything correctly exposed - photography allows you to choose. We see movement as a smooth series of sharp moments - photography allows you to choose how much motion blur you want AND wether the background or the subject is blurred. We see a single quality - and photography allows us to choose: fine or coarse grain, high or low saturation and contrast, black and white or colour.

For me this ability to exploit things that are fundamental to the photographic process is what makes photography so interesting - Intentionality is what makes the photographs so interesting.

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