Friday, 19 January 2018

Martin Parr On Parr

So I had a great time listening to the venerable Magnum photographer Martin Parr. I had very enjoyable company too, with friends who are birds of a feather.

Points I took away and interpreted from his presentation?

  • Focus on the content. If you have chosen a camera and lens that is competent, your main purpose is to narrate the photo. In the digital age, camera parameters are captured to and stored in EXIF - it's inevitable that we get nerdy and ask "but what setting did you use on that photo?"

    When really, whether you use P A S or M, you're chasing the content, composition, opportunity, not the settings. Yes, if you are a newbie, you do want to know whether there is some setting that magically will give you the edge. But asking a photographer who captured the shot for the shot may not give you the right clues. For example, you might wonder why the photographer why he/she used ISO 1600 or f/16 (both closer to the ends of each measure) when that was what was on the camera from the preceding shot or what the camera happened to set. The setting might not be optimum for "image quality" but it happened to be opportune for that frame. So if you blindly follow the EXIF and it doesn't happen for you well......

    Or maybe, it's the primary factors are not in camera but outside the camera.
  • Use a brand or model(s) of gear that you like but at the end of the day, you can make the shot happen even if other people think/feel/say that's not the best gear for that shot.  Martin currently shoots a Canon DSLR - and he documents people and their activities - now fashionably called "shoots street". That's not usually thought of as a street shooter weapon.  Many street shooters crave a red dot Leica, Fuji hipsteresque cameras, the Ricoh GR2 or even Contax T2 film bling - this gear is super cool and makes the owner really happy - ostensibly, these cameras are inconspicuous and allow the photographer to become invisible. It's weird though when I come across a guy with a Leica, my eyes go big and I unconsciously mouth "oh Leica".

    But, it's all in the mind of the street shooter. If you don't think that the camera is bulky, large or inappropriate then it does not detract from your confidence or your ability to take the shot.
  • The most believable documentary shots are those that are not overprocessed. Martin says that he shoots and his colleague processes and finishes. His earlier film photos have a film palette and sometimes very even tonal range - he said for some period of time, he wanted a studio look even on informal, impromptu shots, so he used flash. In digital processing, they remove reflections on spectacles, crop but they don't appear to "work" the photos. Of course for a particularly quirky project, like his selfie photobook, there is major compositing.
  • You don't have to shoot what every other photographer shoots. Good photographs don't have to be of special or very important subjects or scenes. The mundane and the middle class can be interesting if you have an idea, vision or theme to communicate through the photograph.
As a part of the #shoesmonday theme and a homage of his feet up photos, I'll conclude with the following shot.

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