Looking Closer

This week the Culture Show broadcast a special on David Hockney titled ‘The Art of Seeing’. In this episode Hockney tells how he has to look at the landscape for a long time before he sees the colours, that he then transposes onto canvas/iPad. He also explains his video pieces from his show ‘A Bigger Picture’ at the Royal Academy. He uses 9 video cameras set in a grid formation to make the films, because he wanted to be able to capture ‘a bigger picture’. I was mesmerized by these films when I saw the show last month, as were the entire audience. Their effect is to make us look more closely at the landscape and for longer.

This is exactly how I have been feeling about my portraits recently. I feel a need to get closer to my subject. In my case by using a longer lens, to fill the frame with a head and shoulders crop. I can be guilty of relying too much on perspective to compose my pictures. I have a desire to strip this out of my photographs and allow myself to concentrate on the face and the expression. I have also been thinking, that in the process of taking the picture, I need to look more closely. To pause, and take my face away from behind the camera, look directly at the subject before pressing the shutter.

In the process of photographing and because I often stop people in the street to photograph. I can easily get lost in the process, in trying to communicate with a stranger and dealing with the hustle and bustle going on around me. Sometimes it is difficult to pause that process and just look, especially as I don’t have a lot of time with each person. The pause is important. When I worked as an assistant we would set up the shot and shoot a Polaroid as a test. When you look at a physical print in your hand you can see exactly what you need to do to get your shot; you are not in the present, but looking back at a shot that has already been taken. When you look through the viewfinder you are back in the present, and faced with a person looking back at you, and that makes it difficult to be objective and see clearly. It is the same with digital you get an idea of your shot on your camera screen, but it is not until you upload your images onto a computer and view them on it’s screen that you can really see the final shot.

Here are two portraits that I made in Brixton, using my longer portrait lens. I have never found it that easy to use, as with all bits of kit, just takes more practice. I have sussed out that it is not good wide open (f4) . So next time I go out it will be the only lens I take with me and I’ll try it stopped down. I will focus as closely as the lens will allow, to get as close as I can to the subject. Sometimes it helps to have restrictions. I need to concentrate and look more closely until I start to see more.

  1. I really like the first one and the way the hood and its shadow frames his face.

  2. Thank you. He has a great face. I like his seriousness too.

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