A colleague who too owns an OM1 and has an interest in photography was very kind recently when they complimented me on my Flickr Photostream. What they said was this:
“You’ve certainly got a good eye there Clive.”
Now, I know this: I almost certainly glibly dismissed their compliment and blithely blabbered on banally and did my best impersonation of a real bore. I am sorry. It was a kind thing to say and I am most often an arse. However, a few weeks later, I have taken time to accept their compliment and think about what it means.
I have no idea.
I was very, very bored at a conference today - so I put some thought into it and drafted a post, on the pretence I was taking notes on recovery of impaired assets.
I still have no idea.
But I know more than I knew before. So I am going to type about it anyway, here goes, I’m stealing lines from Feist and I’m going to tackle an eye: what is an eye, what does an eye do, technical perfection vs. an eye, an eye vs. components, developing your eye.* ** †
*NB: The list is not exhaustive nor in any particular order, note that not all subjects will be covered, no refund is offered or implied.
** I probably wont talk much about ‘eye’ at all. Instead, I am going to talk about something vaguely like the idea that we all have an eye and that we are drawn to photos because of that. While finally ending up at the photo at the top of this post saying something about it, no refund is offered or implied.
† It isn’t my fault I am typing an illogical blog with obvious signs of illiteracy and an addiction to alliteration, I knocked my head real hard once, no refund…
I’d better get started, my first question is: what makes me take photos? Sometimes it’s a holiday snap, my-good-lady-Dr-wife in a Belgian park, a cute doggy in a St Ives window, me a top a mountain at dawn and in love with life (read: colour). When I take these photos I think it is usually because I’m trying to capture a feeling. Reviewing the photos after the passage of time they usually bring those feelings back. I call that fit for the purpose intended. (I’m still not talking refunds).
Sometimes though, when I press the shutter button, I am drawn by the content. Nothing personal, no feelings to get hooked on. Just the actual item or items I am pointing the camera at. I am not alone. I have noticed that some of my 'content photos’ aren’t dissimilar to what real-cool-cats on Flickr and tumblr are taking photos of. I’ve had a look into what it takes to make a photo popular to the mass-pop, and I can confirm the current zeitgeist is thus:
Granted, not only are these photos of 'content’ but they also possess the eye. No wonder they’re so popular. Oh, I’m talking about the eye like I know what I’m on about. I don’t. But the point I’m making is; even if these photos weren’t so brilliant and they were just a cat, bike or girl, you’d probably still look at them before you would a photo of equal artistic merit of a 2007 Ford Mondeo.
When I was taking notes on the 47 key early intervention measures and identifiers of impaired assets scribbling out the bones of this blog I got 'the eye’ confused with technically perfect exposure and focus of nice things. Or, technically perfect compositions adhering to all artistic diktats and I tried to consider them as mutually exclusive concepts. Sigh, tiring. Of course, some photos which I feel have the eye, are perfect captures, and some are perfect compositions, hells bells - some are both! But you can take a photo which achieves technical nirvana but which is still boring and doesn’t do/have anything. Nearly all HDR is this. So I can’t pigeon hole an eye to skills.
Talking of pigeons, here’s a cat amongst them - blind photographers. Two words: Awe, some. But what are they using to take epic photos? An inner innate eye? A subconscious so powerful it doesn’t need sight? Sounds? My hat off to them, I reckon I should tape my eyes shut, put on my sunnies and rock about with my DSLR on full auto everything and see what happens. I might do it. I might not.
Please scroll up and have a look at the photo at the top of this page. In the interest of scrolling fatigue you may want to open it in another browser window. Welcome back. The photo is a table of books under a bridge on the South Bank. I walked past, glanced left, stopped dead in my tracks and took a photo within seconds of my mental photo alarm going off, and then I kept on walking. Now. I think, and I am going on record here, as saying that this photo shows an eye. Proves an eye. But I took it so quickly! In my PhD in hindsight I am now sitting here poring over it pixel by pixel and I notice some things.
DOF - I did that on purpose, I wanted the front third blurred
POF - I wanted the woman in focus
Hereth ends the conscious level of taking that photo.
Hereth begins the subconscious eye taking the photo.
The table looking like a runway to the box
The bridge loosely bisecting the top third
Two ladies in mauve, two men in brown
This table and not the 5 identical under the bridge
That’s how I’m calling it - that the subconscious took over and I got lucky. I am going to call it that an eye is a subconscious tool that can be trained and nurtured, and that it takes over and gets the shots sometimes. Thank you eye.
So, in closing, I am going to leave you with an epiphany. When I was sitting in the conference of boredom, I was looking around, bored, no surprise there. But the conference room was a ghastly and tired 1980s decor and I was just thinking, “ugh, what would you shoot in here?”. And it hit me! It hit me like I had just had Howard Moon's vibrating palm, ow - chicka-chicka! That is what I could do to improve my eye and investigate it more, I will force myself to see photos in places where I don’t even have a camera on me - and I will force myself to see photos in things I just don’t like. I tried it in a conference room in the midlands and it was awesome, lights, light fittings, a man’s plaid, empty mint wrappers, I see it all, I feel it all!