Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt on photographs that transcend time, place and subject
Photographers often talk about advancing themselves, and improving their craft. Rarely do they talk about why. At first it appears obvious. They want to shoot great pictures. Becoming proficient with the technical side of photography is pretty easy, though, thanks to digital. There’s a wealth of information online on every photography technique and principle you could imagine. But what happens next? What’s the reason you want to be good at photography? What motivates you?
This short video featuring Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt presents a thought provoking perspective on the work. What he and many other photographers attempt to achieve. What brings the “magic” to photography.
It’s interesting, and makes sense, hearing this from a documentary photographer. How do you make your images become something more. How do you make them stand out against everybody else’s images? How do you put your vision into your photography.
Very often, you take pictures and you think you’ve done well. But when you look at the result in the cold light, you see that perhaps you haven’t.
It’s a crap game, really.
I think it applies equally with many genres of photography, though. Landscape photographers know this. It’s why they’ll camp out for days at a single location waiting for the perfect light. Waiting for that perfect moment. Waiting for the magic.
Even as a location portrait photographer, I’ve seen people and places that have become more than the sum of their parts in a photograph. Photographs that become something other than simply a portrait of a person at a pretty location.
All photographers strive for that special moment that transcends the subject, and transcends the place, and has something that last and can be looked at for years to come.
And that’s what is called magic.
It’s a lot like Bresson’s “decisive moment“. It’s about pushing yourself to look at the image and not the equipment. To anticipate, and be patient. I don’t think it’s something you can really plan for. You just sort of get a gut feeling, and go for it.
What’s your magic? Your motivation? What are you striving for? Is the act of photography itself enough for you? Or do you want your images to say something? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.