Perfect circumstances

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, May 19, 2013.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I've been spending a lot of time looking at this relatively famous picture by photographer Joachim Brohm:

    JoachimBrohm.jpg

    It's one of those photographs that makes me think "if only I'd been there". It's almost entirely circumstantial, something that was begging to be photographed, something you couldn't fail to photograph well. He was featured in the Guardian a while ago and as usual, the comments section was filled with skepticism about the art of photography. One comment remarked, about this image, that there are a million similar on Flickr. I'm guessing the viewer only saw the burning car - which, admittedly, has become a bit of a photographic cliche in recent years. But what fascinates me about the picture is that the colour relationships seem more coincidental and photographic than the fire/setting juxtaposition.

    So I wondered, would he have even made the picture had the key colours been different? Even though, in a fundamental subjective sense, everything is there (certainly for most photographers), would the picture still be as strong aesthetically? And would that matter, given the significance of the subject? I edited the picture a little to see if I could come to a conclusion:

    JoachimBrohm-edit.jpg

    The cars could have conceivably been these colours, but I'm convinced that the vehicle on fire had to be blue and there had to be a red car beside it for the picture to work - even though I can much more easily imagine stumbling across the scene as it is in my edit. It has me thinking about the 'gift' of the photographer in a much more superstitious way, as if some have a psychic connection to happenstance, willing such perfectly photographic situations into existence.

    Joel Sternfeld of course is another photographer who applies colour theory to fleeting juxtapositions.
     
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  2. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    You mean a bit like Zen photography?
     
  3. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Also, clearly affected by the Brohm picture, I justified making this one purely for the red and blue cars. :laugh:

    blackpool.jpg
     
  4. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Haha. The difference is they actually believe it about their own practice.
     
  5. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    You forgot the flames :tongue:
     
  6. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Looks to me like a rather mundane lucky happenstance of a car on fire. There's nothing in the picture that I find all that great or impactful.

    And the fact of red and blue doesn't add much to the shot either.

    However what WOULD make the shot is simply a person in the picture reacting in some way.
     
  7. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    For some reason the picture reminds me of the 1970 album cover "pink floyd wish you were here".
     
  8. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I like it. But I don't think the fact the cars are blue and red is so critically important. As for colour theory, it could be used just as well to support the altered version.

    While it may not be the greatest image, I don't think a person in the frame would help at all. In fact that would totally ruin it for me.
     
  9. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I think to criticise any image by saying a person in the picture or not would make it better, is not really possible. It is only when you see the image from the point of capture and composition and the way it is then portrayed through printing/contrast etc., that it has any valid meaning or not. It is very easy to criticize any image, but unless you have something to compare it with, the criticism is seldom valid.
     
  10. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    It looks so easy - f8 and be there. But first thing what photographer who wants to have this kind of lucky moments captured is to have many kilometers in his shoes :smile:. In my case I noticed that it helps when I am not in my home town. When thinking to buy extra lens or whatever - I would always rather go to some new place, even just on weekend.
     
  11. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    The op questions what would have had to happen for the picture to work.

    I stated my opinion.

    YMMV
     
  12. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Well this is it. It holds up in comparison with his other work, stylistically - there's artistic intention.

    For most photographers responding to such a scene (especially today with our phones) this would be a straight reportage shot, given its sporadic nature. So what I was saying in the OP was; he has clearly responded to more than the fire. A potential news story for most has become a diorama in his hands, which I find beguiling.

    In making a colour edit I was trying to remove some of the aesthetic intention, but even there, in essential construct it still remains anything but an illustration of an 'event'.
     
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  13. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Though he would have paid the owner to burn the car on his cue...or buy a pumpkin while the car was burning...
     
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  15. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Hopefully, as photographers who would wish the same, we'd have the courtesy to give the picture a fair reading. Of course, it is a picture of a relatively rare event and, photography is in some measure about simply being there. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt then?
     
  16. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I don't know though, did Joachim Brohm stage the shot?

    When I played music in the darkroom, "Wish you were here" was on frequent rotation. At my dad's house... darkroom in the basement 1980-1983... one of the semi-darkrooms I had where I could only work at night.
     
  17. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Don't know his work. Never seen the picture before.

    Still even though you state it's famous, to me it's nothing more than a mundane picture of a car on fire.

    Nothing about it seems to bring it up the scale to being a great picture or even all that interesting.

    There must not be many car fires in the UK?

    When I grew up in Canada I don't recall ever seeing a car on fire. In the US it's pretty common and in fact they always send fire trucks to car accidents.

    Two weeks ago something like 4-5 women burned to death in the back of a limo crossing a bridge into San Francisco.
     
  18. batwister

    batwister Member

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    That's kind of true and I'll admit, the picture must have some cultural intrigue for me for that reason, but on a more basic level, it's the peculiarities of artistic intention. For the purposes of a discussion, it doesn't really matter if the picture takes your fancy, as I'm trying to be objective about its making myself. Like I say, today this would be an iPhone shot in the local newspaper with the headline 'moments before disaster'. Yet it's not about what's actually happening for me, and I dare say the photographer. It's more the mystery of circumstance, which I was trying to address. It's almost the perfect 'found object' for a photographer concerned with documenting the modern city, as it is, yet as an image, it is transcended through a striking response to colour - which creates a kind of push-pull (subjective-aesthetic) effect. So the question that remains for me is, would he have passed by this burning car if the colours 'weren't right' and would you and I? It's interesting to me what we find photographic, why we find it photographic and the connotations of the subject which are either emphasised or rendered incidental through intent.
     
  19. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    If I had a camera and saw a car burning, I'd see if there was something I could do first. If not, I'd take a picture regardless of paint color..

    I guess the point of the OP is escaping me as those colors are quite common on cars of those years, so the colors didn't enter my consideration of the picture. The flames and the vintage of the auto's are what struck me.

    Also, when the picture was taken is salient. It seems we have far more "silver/grey" cars now than we did back then. It would be difficult to not have colorful cars in a photograph back then.
     
  20. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I think I probably would too. But, assuming you have your own subjective concerns, would it be a wild card? And therefore would it be a creative photograph which you could contextualise or an illustration for the newspaper? I think for most it would be the latter. Joachim Brohm's is part of a series of bold colour colour pictures and very definitely not a news illustration. There is something ambiguous about it beyond the subject and it is largely to do with colour. It's a photograph about photography, as they say.

    That's very true. I think the bold primaries of cars in the 70s have a lot to do with the emergence of colour art photography, in connection with the New Topographics.
     
  21. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    The biggest subjective concern I'd have is safety and being able to help. Those aside, I've only seen two or three burning cars in my life - too interesting to pass on aesthetic grounds.

    Seeing that my photography is mostly snapshots/memories, I'd be capturing the moment - so it would be more of the newspaper analogy.

    However, if I had a number of pictures I were displaying for whatever reason (publication, web, slide show, etc), then color (or whatever aesthetic concern I were illustrating) might influence the choice of what I show. The picture would not have been taken for the purpose it would later serve.
    Of course, if I were asked about it, I may not admit how things really transpired :wink:

    On the other hand, choosing photos that illustrate a subject is not the same as claiming to have taken it for that purpose. Most avid photographers have quite a portfolio of images to draw from.
     
  22. zsas

    zsas Member

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    No, No. No matter what your slant, you've photographed it due to its rarity should you be out photographing these kinds of environments. For eg, say a Armenian concert photographer saw the most perfect scene of a fan in a Union Jack shirt running up to hug the lead singer of a Surinamese band....I highly doubt the photographer would pass on this opportunity......same thing here. Now would the colors/symbols mesh to create the magic image? That is what the definition of art is......
     
  23. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    For me I would take this picture and probably look for some better or more interesting angles before the thing blew up.

    As for the color aspects you find interesting, I experience color more intuitively and the blue/ red dynamic only would mean something to me if it was a striking picture.

    This is to me a picture I would take but would probably never do anyone with, which I probably have thousands.
     
  24. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    The more I look at it, the more I believe it. I believe photographer happened upon a smoky car and thought it cool... setup the shot expecting just an ordinary scene where owner lifts hood of car and solves the problem. Then this happened and he had no choice but to shoot. The owner had already run for his life.

    I could be projecting, and I know nothing for sure. But if I happened upon a smoking car, I sure would get my camera out. If it caught while I was watching, I'd shoot film. Heck I've had this happen to one of my cars (almost). But I got there to the carburetor and extinguished the little flame before it ran down the fuel line. I wasn't taking pictures at the time.
     
  25. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    That was supposed to be ANYTHING with......damn autocorrect.
     
  26. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I reread the thread and caught more of your drift on color and its power/relationship in a photograph.

    Here's my theory on color theory, composition bokeh, etc. My theory is, it makes a great sauce/spice.

    If you have me over for dinner and you make me a great steak with a wonderful sauce on it, then say what do you think? Don't you love the sauce?

    I'll say yes it was incredible. But the next week you invite me back and make a steak with the same sauce but the steak is hard and tough. Then you say how did you like the sauce. I'll say the steak was tough. And you say but the sauce was great. Wasn't it? And the answer is, it doesn't matter the steak was tough.

    So in a photograph you have a scene with great color arrangements and then say, isn't this a great picture? Well was the picture a great picture before the color arrangements? If yes. Great. If not. Who cares about the color.

    If you have a photograph of a women's breasts and who doesn't love breasts. And you say look at her breasts, beautifully lit, round, etc etc but they are attached to a 55 year old with the face of a witch. And I say ewwwww. You say what? They are beautiful breasts.

    Then you show me another picture of a women's breasts, same thing beautifully lit, etc and she has a gorgeous face with a nice expression. And you say, what do you think. I say, I love it. So you say well whats the difference, they both have beautiful breasts. And my answer is yes but the first one made me throw up in my mouth. I don't care about her breasts.

    Take Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl photograph from National Geographic, and you could argue about color theory and how the colors make the picture. And I would say no, the colors spice the picture. The picture would still be impactful in black and white. The haunting eyes are what make the picture.

    So to make a short story long, to me, coming across a photograph or scene that has great composition, or color, or a scene that has someone's theory of color, and thinking that it's a great or even good because of that, is a false idea.

    To me the picture has to have impact or other elements in it to engage me, and then artsy rules and ideas can then add spice to it, to make it great.

    So your car on fire example. For me there is nothing in the picture that the color of the cars adds or detracts that would make it anything more than a mundane car fire. Would I take the picture? Yes. Probably because it's on fire. But the colors of the car are pretty much irrelevant as is the picture.
     

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