PRACTICE

Practice

practice 1practice 2

For millions of years ever since our species first emerged from the darkness of the undeveloped brain and slowly began to think and to imagine and to wonder what was and is, and also what could be, we have been a species of innovation and invention, learning to change things as they are to what they can become to enhance or ease our life of toil and existence.

 

The first ring of stones assembled around the fire, for containment and safety, was seen and valued and copied by others. The first crude scratching of an image in the mud with a pointed stick and there was art for all to marvel at and then employ for the good of the mind, to learn and to discover the great tool of the imagination, which enables us to value and to share and to lend our discoveries and talents to others, and even to pitch in to help our neighbor construct a circle of stones around his campfire.

 

In my time I have been helped by others to learn things that I held important to me. I learned in the fifties from Andy Stoyak how to shrink the stretch out of the twisted metal of a car body with torch, hammer, dolly and a wet rag. In the early seventies I saw the paint jobs of Junior Conway, and from seeing his great skill with sanding block and spray gun I learned what was expected of me as body man and car painter. In my search for photographic meaning and craft I discovered the photographs and words of Henri Cartier-Bresson and knew better what was expected of me and how high the craft of photography could rise.

 

I learned because I was hungry for insight into the things that were important to me. I have advanced slowly up the tall ladder of skill in craft and enlightenment by looking at things and comparing them with mind and wonderment. I enjoy sharing some of what I have learned with others like myself who search for meaning and insight into the creative processes that we use to enrich our lives and the lives of others.

 

I have included here two photographs as examples of my process, or technique, of photographic expression. One photograph shows my friend Richard Thompson practicing. It was made in New Orleans in 1996. I had woken up early and was headed out of the hotel to prowl the streets of the French Quarter with my camera and imagination and when I passed the open door of Richard’s room I came upon this sight of him playing his guitar practicing for a gig that coming evening. Somehow I knew the importance of the scene and quickly made a photograph, which was used later as the cover art for his album called “Small Town Romance.” Just a quick look with my photographic imagination and a snap at 500th of a second and a vision was secured which will last forever, for me and for you and hopefully for all of us to know the importance of practice.

 

The snap I made of one of the finest musicians I have ever heard was done quickly, but with a practiced thought process that I had developed over the years. This process has enabled me to only include the needed elements, factors and details, which were arranged effectively to give the viewer enough visual and aesthetic information to understand the meaning of the scene, my intent in making it and the visual elements I chose to include in the frame of my camera at that instant in time and place.

 

Practice is an important part of my process for making an image which has the power to speak to the viewer and to provide a better and more complete understanding of my intent when making it.

I practice by walking with my camera and with my imagination in full operational mode. It is an intense process that removes me from conscious thought and takes me to a magic place of discovery in my own world of what there is around me and what I can make of it with my camera. My goal is to share my feelings about what I encounter visually by compressing what I see into the narrow confines of the small frame of my camera’s viewfinder. I take all that I visualize and sense and then include what is important for the viewer to see, and what I need to exclude from the frame, that might be a distraction from the other elements in the scene that best describe my feeling and my intention for the image.

 

I learned a long ago that for me there is no “composition” in my photographic process, only facts. Visible facts that when combined effectively in the frame produce a composition automatically. The word composition is a confusing one for me, but visual facts that make up the subject tell me much more about the finished structure of my intended image and the word facts, and the collecting of facts in the viewfinder, help to guide me in the making of an effective composition.

 

I use a Nikon F-3 because the frame in my viewfinder shows me 100% of what I will see in the resulting negative. Nothing more, nothing less. No surprises by something omitted or included that I did not plan on. Very few cameras will show 100% in the viewfinder and that is why I use the F-3 which accurately shows me the subject. I do not crop my photos and that is the reason I need 100% viewfinder coverage. The black lines that surround my photographs are made by enlarging the negative carrier frame in my enlarger to show the clear edge of the negative, which prints black in my resulting photograph. The black lines are always in my mind’s eye when I am framing my photographs.

 

People see me walking and constantly bringing my camera up to my eye and maybe thinking I use a lot of film, but I am only practicing most of the time and not making photographs. Practicing framing and knowing exactly  I hope what the frame sees, as opposed to my eyes. I use very little film, but am always practicing with the framing and focus. Practicing for me is essential. Basketball, Springboard diving, playing music and making photographs means practicing in order to produce a finished product to my best expectations. The image before me is too important to rely on chance to capture with mind and camera. A slow mind and a slow hand mean disaster for me.

 

The second image of the two boys, the dog and the departing figure was made in 1983 in Pasadena California. I use it to demonstrate the accurate framing, focusing and timing that constant practice has allowed me to develop. I have included in the frame what I determined was important for the viewer to see and feel. The figure leaving the frame on the right was an important element for me to include. It gives a mysterious quality to the photograph and is an example of the inclusion of the elements, factors and details that I try to make sure are in all of my photographs because I have always remembered what Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, “it’s all in the details.”

This entry was posted in Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops and tagged , , , , , .

3 Comments

  1. Peter Mortensen April 16, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    Hi John,

    I have watched a few of your YouTube films and I really like your photography and your approach to it. I was a photographer once but left it behind to secure a regular income to pay for a house and family life.

    I have been away from photography, other than occasionally when I manage to take time out of my busy work/family schedule, for a long time and I really miss it. I was never a street photographer, more of a project based documentary photographer, and I feel I would benefit greatly from your expertise and experience, not to mention your obvious love of photography and the motivation that brings. I have tried my hand at a bit of street photography, but find the usual “photograph in my mind” hard to visualise in the fleeting moments that present themselves when out walking. In fact, I say “usual”, when in reality it used to be usual. Now, with a lack of practice, it’s a lot more difficult to think visually.

    Anyway, I rant. There is a point to this and it is; I would love to spend a whole week with you in LA, but due to being in England and not being rich, rather more like just-scraping-by, have you considered doing any online workshops? Maybe in the form of some Skype chats, some assignments (or goals), and some critique and pointers, maybe over a bit longer periods and at a bit slower pace?

    I realise it might be difficult to get across what you want to get across in an online course, but from my point of view, I sure wouldn’t mind giving it a go.

    That’s it really, just a suggestion. I also wanted to say thanks for the great YouTube films.

    All the best

    Peter Mortensen

  2. Dinah Beaton April 9, 2017 at 1:02 am #

    Thanks to Tad Forbes somehow popping up on my Face Book stream and showing his video of you, I looked you up on Google Search and found your website and spent nearly 2 hours going through your various videos and reading your blogs.

    I love you style, your no nonsense approach in taking photographs and of course, your humour. I am inspired.

    You have a new fan – thank you.

    (P.S.My website is one I’ve just finished creating myself so lots more to add and improve on)

    Dinah

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