Seeing & Looking
"Good photography is like making love, it's best not to go too fast. Years of photographing have convinced me that deliberate attention to the subject itself is the force behind compelling photography. As lovers, when we make love, we pay attention to the object of our passion." ~ Jim Austin Jimages
"No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen."
So said American photographer and educator Minor White (1908-1976). He also wrote " Set aside some time to let the garbage go by so as to pay full attention to the photographing."
As our photography culture expands, conversations about speed take place more often. Speed itself gets confused with quality and meaning. A mythical mantra of today's commercial photography is that faster gear means better images. It's a myth. Speed is garbage going by. I believe we should set aside time for slow photography because it lets our heart beat come into harmony with our minds vision. I believe slow photography means taking time to learn what you can do with a photograph and how you feel as you make one.
Intention, not speed, defines interesting photography. While it is tempting to rush when photographing a scene, this is as mistaken as thinking a scene is a narrative. We do not know what happened by looking at a photograph, nor do we know that working quickly makes the image better. If I am judgemental, and think “that was a good frame,” given more thought in editing I might realize later that a slightly different camera position would have made a more interesting composition: "If I'd moved to the right two inches" and "Why didn't I slow down and take more time to explore the scene.”
TIME FOR EXPERIENCING
To make beautiful pictures, we have to take time to experience, then prepare, get our mental attitude ready, and then let our mind and soul embrace the spirit of a place as we enter its flow. This may not happen on the first round, or second, or fifteenth. Our attention to the idea has to be continual, sometimes for years.
"A photograph takes a 60th of a second to capture, but 60 years to release." Jimages
But what kind of attention? Years of photographing have convinced me that deliberate attention to the subject itself is the force behind compelling photography. As lovers, when we make love, we pay attention to the object of our passion. Why not the same as photographers? This does not imply that the subject is external. Subject matter can be a feeling, mood and quite abstract. At times, compelling images reflect less concrete, ideational themes. There is a balance between feeling emotion and thinking with each frame. Good photography doesn't happen just because we felt strong emotions when we clicked. Like bottling a gallon of maple syrup from 40 gallons of tree sap, a tasty photograph combines experience, patience and a lot of practice to make mistakes along the way.
To acquire and maintain a skill takes practice, so the basics are automatic. Then, our visual imagination is free to improvise, as musicians do, to fine tune unique details that make a frame singular and fresh. For practice, each morning I take a camera outdoors. I take a few boring compositions. and framing. It does not matter if most of the images are deleted. What counts is the practice, slowing down the process of seeing, without time pressure. Then, every so often, rarely, the stones within the frame may turn into a diamond. It often helps me to keep photographing and experimenting even when I feel I have the best image. I believe that frame of mind is the most valuable tool in the gear bag. Our attitudes become patterns. These patterns become actions. Our actions, with repetition, shift into habits. Positive mental habits are our most effective gear. One attitude that works for me is telling myself: "this composition seems good, but I wonder if I slow down and take different views, it will be even better?" These positive mental habits evolve slowly over time. It helps to surround ourselves with the culture of a variety of good art, literature and photography.
INTENTION and ATTENTION
A photographer needs intention. I try to fill my practice with an intentional purpose. This takes time. If the idea of slow photography is to endure, I believe it will not be about time exposures, gear choices, or neutral density filters. Instead, slow photography evokes the meaning of our experiences with the picture world as we train our feet and brain to pay attention.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages