Sunday, July 15, 2012

Moments........and Intimacy



I mentioned in my previous post about the subtlety of the learning experience in the Peter Turnley workshop that I attended in Istanbul and, in response to some of the questions I received on it, wanted to give some simple examples by way of explanation.


One of the great learning opportunities in the workshop was the group sessions where Peter would review and edit the previous days work. The objective of these sessions was three-fold; firstly, to create a fifteen shot portfolio that explored a theme on the city, secondly, to provide a platform for Peter to provide feedback on individual photographs and to comment on technique and style, and finally, and I don't know how intentional this was, to show how the editing process works as demonstrated by someone who is enormously experienced at ruthlessly reviewing and editing down to the best photographs for publication. Initially this process was a little unnerving for me as I watched as what I thought were strong shots hit the cutting room floor. Why was this? well, for me and my personal style, it came down to what I think was the question of intimacy in the photograph. Let me try to explain.....

Personal Intimacy

The above opening shot was taken in a side-street that was a little bit off the beaten track near the amazing Galata Bridge. I had decided to wander around the back-streets while I waited for the rich, creamy, later afternoon light that I liked so much at the Bosphorus and I came across this lovely old gentleman sitting outside a cafe. I was immedeatley attracted to the setting and the obvious interest created by his appearance and in particular his face and eyes. Putting some of Peter's philosophy into practice, I didn't sneak around and try to catch a shot on the fly, but simply walked up openly and started to build some rapport and empathy with the old man. He couldn't speak English but that wasn't a problem, I showed him that I was here to take photographs and together we looked at some of the days shots. He recognized the locations and immediately pulled over a small chair so that I could join him for a cup of tea and also showed his willingness to be photographed himself.


I found that I liked the shots very much because of a twinkle that I could see in his lively eyes and a somewhat mischievousness in his expression. But here's the thing, although these are decent, interesting shots the intimacy in them is personal to me. Much of my liking of the shots is based on the overall experience and emotional connection that I had, the friendliness of the old man and the joy of sharing a tea sitting on the street with him and his companions in this wonderfully vibrant city. The problem really comes with the directness of the relationship, he is looking straight at me (and the camera) in all of the shots that I took and as Peter helped me to see, this destroys emotion and takes away the need for the mind to question and extrapolate on what is going on in the shot. Here is another example that works a little bit better because of the humor, but still has the directness of personal relationship that devalues the photograph. It was Peter's advice that more often than not when the subject looks directly at your eyes or the camera, the  photo will not have the same level of mystery or overall interest as a result of the personalization that occurs. 


Moments of Non - Personal Intimacy

By way of contrast, it became very clear in looking at everyone in the groups shots that the intrinsically more interesting photographs had captured a moment of intimacy that had no direct relationship to the photographer. This was also evident in the review of the masters of the craft. Here is a near miss of mine that got edited out for poor composition by clipping the hand of the accordion player but it definitely has a more thought provoking moment of intimacy as the mind looks at the expression and tries to assess the meaning of all of this and its hard not to see a sense of regret or sadness in the expression that is heightened as the mind looks for further detail and information to better understand what is going on. This detached intimacy is critically important to creating a sense of demanding the viewer to think and assess what is happening as opposed to the direct approach where the mystery and challenge is removed. 


This can also be seen clearly when there is more than one person in the shot and its possible to explore them together if they are interacting with each other, or to provoke a more poetic response if they are in a moment of personal thought or reflection. Something that I personally like that I sometimes think adds another dimension is to use mirrors or windows to show another perspective and here is a nice example of that in a simple cafe shot.


Its not the best composed of shots but I like the fact that the intimacy of the moment is explored from two angles and the girl on the lefts face is a little poetic when seen from both perspectives.

This can be seen again in the following shot from a card game in a cafe in the Tarlabarsi area of the city. This area is known for the interesting streets and is consider a bit of a slum being occupied by migrants to the city who come in search of work. I found the people to be very friendly though, and, when approached respectfully, were great fun. After speaking to the men outside the cafe for a few moments we were graciously invited in and furnished with a cup of refreshing tea while the card players laughed and posed for us. After a while the novelty wore of and, as Peter advised, the real moments of intimacy began to emerge as the directness of the relationships to be explored were removed as the men returned to the much more serious business of concentrating and winning at cards. Again, I like the use of reflection to create a little tension but then open up the story of what is happening. By the way, the men in this photo come from an area of the city that is often problematic and the scene of political disputes. I have to say that I have always found it better to view people as you find them and I can assure you these people could not have been nicer to me and my fellow photographic companion.




I hope this short exploration of moments of intimacy makes sense and, although the examples I used may not be the best, that the concept is better understood. It should be clear that there is a critical difference between direct moments of intimacy where the intrinsic interest is reduced, and indirect ones that create much more interest and challenge to the viewer.


If anyone is interested in learning more and taking their photography to a new level then Peter runs ten to twelve workshops a year in all of the most stunning locations for this type of photography. Peter Turnley Workshops


26 comments:

  1. It takes modesty, courage and much love to enter people's universes and stay with them. You did such a good job at it that I could easily challenge you to only do street photography from now on! And I bet you received much more than just a cup of tea... Looking forward to seeing the other shots. B

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  2. Hey Brindusa, thanks so much, really appreciate you looking and commenting. The writing doesn't come easily to me but I am trying a bit more than I used to :)

    Cheers,

    Colin

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    Replies
    1. Your writing is soulful... More, please:)

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Thank you for this entry. I will try to apply what you have explained so well.

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  5. "The writing doesn't come easily to me ...."!!! Colin, good things never come easy - your skill with words and your camera are things to envy! Keep it up. The workshop was certainly a great experience - both sharing Peter's gentle but incisive teaching, and the great company.
    Cheers, Bob.

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  6. Hey Bob & Drindusa, thanks to you both for the kind word and encouragement and I echo your sentiments about the workshop.

    Bob, hope the rest of the trip was good, please stay in touch,

    Colin

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    Replies
    1. Oops, very sorry Brindusa, not having a good night.

      Colin

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  7. No problem at all! I do hope you are having better nights, though... B

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  8. Hallo Colin,

    thank you so much for this insightful article. I really appreciate your blog and the pictures taken. I have one question though: what kind of equipment (camera,
    lenses) was Peter Turnley using on the workshop in Istanbul?

    Best regards
    Rainer

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    Replies
    1. Hello, I think its impoortant to say that Peter placed absolutely no relevance on the cameras or lenses used by the workshop students other than to advise ataying wide around 28- 35 mm.

      Peter used a D700 with what I think I recall being a 24-70 that he kept at the wide end.

      Thanks for your kind comment,

      Colin

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  9. Excellent article, Colin, thanks for writing it. One good take-away from the workshop for me was to not take myself too seriously when holding the camera, to smile and be at ease, because the subject will always feel what you are feeling. Keep up the good work.

    cheers
    dan

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  10. Hey Dan, nice to hear from you and I completely agree. Thanks for looking and giving encouragement.

    Cheers,

    Colin

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  11. Amazing post & very much interesting am sure your blog will be popular in 2013



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  12. Colin, your reflections on your experience with Peter Turnley show you to be a good student; as accomplished a photographer as you already are, you took the instructions and inspirations of a truly gifted teacher (Turnley) to heart. Sometimes a powerful learning experience can shake one's confidence and make one either start over with the new insights or hang up your camera and go try fly-fishing or stamp collecting! If that happened - - I noticed that we haven't seen any new articles from you in a while :^) - - then take heart and keep posting. There are readers out here who wait for your blog posts and images and look forward to each new article. Like your Chinese neighbors in Singapore say, "jia yo!"

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  13. Very Natural and Real Faces.. No fake expressions and smile. Great Work.

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  14. You haven't post any new articles for a while. Please keep the blog running. I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for sharing all your wonderful stories!!!

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  15. Hi Col, how can I get of hold of you please I really need to chat to you re your photos, email will do fine, you can contact me at richard.pearson@me.com

    Thanks

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  16. dhow cruise Dubai one of the best place where you have to enjoy with your friends and family.

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  17. Wow! Turkey's magnificent place! Would love to go there sometime in the future!

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  18. Hi Col,

    How are you?

    I haven't heard back from you regarding my request

    Is it ok?

    Kind Regards
    Rich

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