Friday, August 15, 2003

Emotion in the city 

Well, I may have been closer to the mark second time round yesterday. The city does indeed contain much to feed the soul.

There's currently a wonderful open-air photographic exhibition in Regents Park - the M.I.L.K. (Moments of Intimicy, Laughter and Kinship) exhibition. Over 200 photos from around the world, in huge weatherproof mounts.

I can't help but analyse things. Maybe it comes from having once been a scientist. As I wandered past the displays, I fell to wondering what it was about some shots gave them meaning for me, whilst I would walk straight past others.

Predictably perhaps, many photos brought together youth and age. Babies smiling up into grandparent's faces, that kind of thing. I have to say these did little for me; just a smile then I moved on. Perhaps it was because I felt them mostly contrived, composed for the benefit of the judges not the audience.

Internationally, the collection was broad. Very many depicted living conditions and a way of life very different from those I'm used to - a powerful reminder that, globally, the way of life I enjoy (?) is the exception rather than the rule. Much in these was of interest, but it didn't necessarily move me.

But after a while I realised there was indeed a common factor to all those that particularly caught my eye - those that I would linger over, becoming involved with them - they all captured emotion between people. The subjects were involved with each other, not the camera. An Israeli nurse and her elderly patient greeting each other with hands holding each other's faces; a father and son in energetic conversation; an 88 year old woman saying goodbye to her 92 year old friend since school days who was close the death. The communication of emotion was so powerful that some of these brought a few tears to my eyes.

At first it seemed surprising that so few fell into this category. But judging by the technical quality of the photos I'd guess that most were well prepared - and emotion is something that can't be turned on for the benefit of the camera. I love the photographs of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe which date back almost to the dawn of photography (he established his studio in 1875). His photos would of necessity have required considerable preparation (the earliest being on wet collodion glass plates) and I couldn't help but be reminded of them as I viewed this exhibition.

Now, I don't mean that those photos that didn't communicate emotion were necessarily any less worthy than those that did, but I found it intriguing that in an exhibition whose subject is so closely tied to emotion, so few shots had captured it.

Vision, skill, planning and patience - I guess these are all prerequisites at this level of photography. But maybe what tips the balance between a good and a great photo is a little bit of luck.

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