What Is Going On Here

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Woman At The Met

Woman At The Met

This article is, for want of a better description, a word to myself to start street photography again.

What Is Going On

I saw a photo in a magazine recently that got me thinking. It was of a wooden structure – maybe a bridge – with parts of the timbers broken off. Visible below the timbers was a young African man in a coloured Tshirt working his way across the gap.

It reminded me of something Martin Parr said in a TV series critiquing aspiring photographers, which is that the viewer ought to be able to make sense out of the scene and find themselves naturally asking and being interested in ‘What’s going on?’

That’s not a head-scratching ‘What’s going on?’ as in ‘I can’t make head or tail of this.’ but of being genuinely engaged in a narrative that makes sense, and seeing that something is going on and wondering what it is.

I would contrast that with ‘art’ photos that shout pretence rather than narrative.

And I would contrast that with candid street photographs where nothing is going on; where’s no narrative. It’s just a shot of a person standing or sitting or looking with very little dynamic movement in the body. Just a passive body snapped in 1/125th second.

Which reminds me of something I heard from a woman who writes and draws graphic novels. She said that recently she had started hiring actors to act out the scenes she intended to draw. And she said that the most successful actors were those who hammed it up like cartoon characters.

When they were being shouted at, for example, they didn’t stand there solidly. They rocked way back on their heels as though the blast of invective was blowing them backwards.

Of course a portrait, for example, doesn’t have to have a narrative. I am not saying that all photos have to have a narrative.

And of course – each to their own – and what one man finds interesting another man/woman might not.

But a photo of the type I am talking about – where something is going on – is likely to be successful if it makes sense and make us ask ‘What is going on?’


Haha – how embarrassing – I see I wrote in a similar vein last November.

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