Above: Waiting, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1983 (Detail). Credit: Richard Misrach/Fair use.


Although there is often the desire--or instruction--to get-closer-to-the-action in photography, there are many photographers who have done the opposite: backing-off and withdrawing to a spot where they can survey all of what is going on in a certain locale. This approach becomes, even in the urban environment, a form of landscape photography. A scene unfolds before the viewer. The photographer in this case becomes not engaged-and-present but aloof-and-distant, an objective observer. The photographer records a view dispassionately and this becomes the approach. The photo being just a view, and the photo-audience is invited to peruse that view, and draw their own conclusions about the scene before them. Two genius-level photographers using this attack are Richard Misrach and Joel Sternfeld.

There are two key aspects to think about with this mode of creative photography.

First, this type of approach lends itself to a super-high-resolution image. The most inexpensive way to achieve super-high-quality in resolution is to shoot on 10x8 inch colour negative sheets using a view camera. These cameras can be fiddly to use (you have to load each piece of negative into its own plastic carrier before you set off), but the results are supreme and unbeatable--no DSLR on Earth can equal the resolution of 10x8 inch negative. (Borrow or rent a 10x8 at first to see if you enjoy working this way).

The second thing is, obviously, your point-of-view selection. Once you encounter a scene or view that interests you, the next requirement is to move around looking for a great vantage point. This part of the shoot is the most important. So take your time. Circle around the site, thinking about what you want in and what you are prepared to lose from the frame. Be composing as you go, so that by the time you set the camera-tripod down, you are really only working in tech-mode (just getting your shot correctly exposed).

This way of working in creative photography is very particular in that it does require the photographer to be pensive, ponderous, standoffish (perhaps even a little insular). It is a reserved and often cerebral way of working--and tends to appeal (unsurprisingly) to the reserved-and-cerebral personality type.

(26 October 2018)