Monday, February 18, 2013

Pickling the World In Aspic


My lifelong love of photography has always been motivated not by any abstract search for the perfect composition, but by a fascination with the photographers' ability to stop time. Maybe this is why I have never taken to film or video, where one creates a continuous record from which you can only read the passage of a given story rather than explore the possibilities of a story yet untold. For me it is the "decisive moment" of Cartier Bresson that is paramount, that "simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression" (Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Decisive Moment (1952)).

And that is why I so enjoy scanning my old negatives and rediscovering those "decisive moments" of years gone by. That moment in time when I pressed a camera shutter and pickled the world in aspic. Here is a photograph which I took at the Halifax Gala back in the mid 1960s. Nice composition, nice enough subject matter. But zoom in and look at those faces, read their lives, predict their futures. Take any one of the fifteen or twenty faces in the enlargement; each one is a life, each one is a catalogue of experiences and emotions. And fate or fortune brought them all together to listen to a brass band playing. And there they listened as they let their expressions tell a story. And now we read that story almost fifty years later. That is the delight of photography.

Several people have asked me about the mechanics of scanning old negatives. I promise to address the technical issues in a blog-post later this week.

20 comments:

  1. i am curious...can the deaf feel the music rather than hear it...that struck me in your pic...the sign in the back

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    1. I can speak from the perspective of someone who was completely deaf for a time. It is possible to "feel" music via vibrations, but, believe me, that can't compare with the ability to "hear" music. The proximity of the brass band to the Halifax Deaf Society tent in my photograph is just a coincidence.

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  2. Cartier-Bresson is one of my inspirations. Great perspective on why we are photographers!

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  3. Nicely pickled Alan!

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  4. One of the reasons I love visiting this blog is seeing how you re-capture moments

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  5. Most enjoyable picture. Isn't it great that snap-shot became the term for unposed photographs? In an instant so much can be captured! Can't wait to hear what you have to say about scanning negatives!
    Barb

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  6. I think I see a latent novelist hovering just beyond the image. "But zoom in and look at those faces, read their lives, predict their futures. Take any one of the fifteen or twenty faces in the enlargement; each one is a life, each one is a catalogue of experiences and emotions." Reads like the opening words of a novel.

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  7. I am drawn to the clothes as a marker of the time. In a similar photo from my parent's generation, thirty years earlier, the men probably all would be in suit coats and hats, as opposed to jackets and caps. I realized, recently, not because they were more formal, but because that was the extent of their wardrobe.

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  8. I have my negative device out and someday I will start doing some to see how it works. I like your thoughts. Photos are such story telling devices as the visual tells so much. I like how your skills of taking shots are so right on, to capture that event and the people side of the story. Your crowd in the first shot are so much leaning into the music while watching the magic makers playing those sounds. It must have been a great piece of music they were playing.

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  9. I love the old black and whites..you have captured some wonderful moments in time:)

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  10. All these bands had to have a uniform with the peaked cap. Good eye Brian to see the sign deaf association. As Allan says looking at the details closely can bring much more to the photo.

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  11. If not for old photographs I would not have many childhood moments etched within my thoughts! Scan on I say (like nearly everyday)

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  12. A great incite into photography. I agree with you . I love old photos for the memories they provoke like the one I used on my last post.

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  13. Like the deaf banner and the band; C-B would have enjoyed the humour.

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  14. I feel exactly the same way, Alan. I've dabbled with video, but it just doesn't offer the same degree of magic.

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  15. Like John (above), the image of a banner for the Halifax Deaf Association juxtaposed with a brass band playing does evoke some humour, albeit dark; one wonders if the band members had their hearing damaged by the instruments.

    A bit like the home for the blind in Southport being called the Sunshine Home for the Blind.

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  17. Ah ,Manor Heath Rocks!

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  18. You know I feel the same about photography...love all the incredible slices of life you post, Alan...

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  19. A splendid photo, Alan, and I also enjoy the way photographs capture "decisive moments". Recently I upgraded to a new digital camera - a Canon G15. I wanted it for the HD video feature so I could take video of our dog in agility trials. But the photo features are a marvel too. Somehow the little computer inside will recognize faces that I have previously identified, automatically focus on them and then add their name and address to the image file!

    But it also has a way of taking multiple rapid photos and then automatically "deciding" which one is best. I don't think this is the way Cartier Bresson's camera worked. I'd love to see some of his darkroom rejects.

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