Suddenly the world looked upside down and the horizon didn’t seem quite so square in my viewfinder. I landed with a thump on my buttocks and lay on my back. I had been running backwards while photographing an event in Greece and tripped on some bricks in the road. The Fujifilm X-T1 camera was still firmly grasped in my hand, on the screen was the last image I had taken. It showed feet, legs and sky, my finger hadn’t left the shutter button even as I flew through the air. It was probably not one of my better-constructed images but it certainly conveys a sense of movement.
Composing an image is obviously important but construction within the image is also vital to the final outcome.
In this picture, the woman leaning against the wall of her house in Crete, is a small but integral part of an image made up of shapes, shadows and lines. A neighbour, who is not in the camera frame, was gossiping to this woman who seemed to be taking a rest from her housework. The early morning light has created shadows along the footpath and across the wall, which appear to point to, or surround the woman. The window and doors enclose her with lines and shapes formed by the morning sun. At the other end of the image a broken wicker chair creates a slouching shadow and provides energy, which acts as a counterbalance to the woman. The diamonds on the door along with shutters on the windows and plastic curtains add an extra dimension of shapes and lines. The picture was shot in colour but it has a monochromatic feeling adding an extra weight to the brightly coloured glove on the woman’s hand. This simple moment was something I saw and captured as I walked through a small mountain village in Greece. In some ways there was nothing occurring but for that one moment I observed the extraordinary happening in the ordinary.
As Elliott Erwitt, the master of many beautifully constructed images said, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
When I shot this image in Turkey of young men in a car, I used the doors and windows as frames to compartmentalize the people in my picture. The picture was seen, not posed. When I saw these men in the car I rapidly put the camera up to my eye and bent down and moved slightly to the right so I didn’t cut off the nose of the man in the back of the car. The car door and windows behind him frame the young man in the front of the picture. Because he is leaning into the car we are forced to look at the other man in the back of the car. This man is visible between the doorframe and the window frame over his shoulder. Part of his leg is visible through the windowpane, which reflects the doorframe and exterior scene, adding another layer to the image. The man is in profile and we follow his gaze to more men who are framed within the back window of the car. These men are staring back at the car, which links the three individual portraits together.
Moments like this seem to come together rarely but they are captivating when captured by the camera. Alex Webb is one photographer who has an instinct for finding, seeing and capturing these instances.
The legendary National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard was quoted as saying, “In my photography, colour and composition are inseparable. I see in colour”. Colour plays a significant part in this image of a mother and son cleaning the sidewalk outside their village shop in Greece. There’s a colourful detergent bottle in the woman’s hands that is highlighted by the morning sun, turning it into the photograph’s motif.
The placement of the green hose separates the couple but its significance also links them together. Water gushes out of the hose, the movement enhanced by a slow shutter speed. The man is framed in a window adorned with images and Greek lettering above his head, informing us of the product his shop is selling. The reflection of the man is eloquently framed in the middle of the shuttered window. The woman is smaller than the man as if age has shrunken her. She’s poised for work; red broom thrust forward and detergent globules bubbling on the ground near her feet.
Capturing the moment is important but the fine detail within the image is often what makes the difference between a picture that works and one that lacks any energy. That could mean waiting until that pivotal moment when a blink, a look, a frown, a stare or a moving shadow fall into place and lock the image into one coherent story.
The secret – if there is one to this type of photography – is to pick up your camera and walk, look and to quote David Allan Harvey, “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like”.
And, Never Give Up and Never Give In.