Looking At Pictures
Let's talk about looking at pictures and talking about pictures. So, one of the most difficult things many people feel is how to talk about a photograph. What do you say, that's nice, that's beautiful, that's pretty? That isn't enough. Photographs are rich with information and potential. Not stories in a conventional narrative way, but stories of instantaneous vision, of being present and ready when something happens. For example, here's a photograph made in Paris. This photograph was only one picture. There wasn't time for another shot. I was walking on a street, I see a crowd, I feel the energy of the crowd. I move toward it and there in front of me on the street is a man fallen on the sidewalk and unconscious, and at the very same time that I see the guy on the ground, I see a man with a hammer stepping over the guy and walking somewhere. And, it looks for all the world, as if this guy had just bludgeoned him with the hammer, and knocked him to the ground, but of cou...
rse it didn't happen like that. It was just a man had fallen and the character with the hammer is going to work some place, and all around them are people. A guy on a bicycle turning behind his back, a guy who's walking, he's looking off to the side, and all these other people by the bus, they're all looking. Not one person is going over to help the guy on the ground. So, what's the story here? The interaction between the guy on the ground and the man with the hammer, and the kind of possible story that he knocked him down, or the larger story, which is, why are all these people not helping that man? Why is it that they're paralyzed and they aren't going to the defense or the aid of this fallen guy? So, several things happen all at once in a photograph, and part of the joy of making images is that they are flexible. They can be read in singular ways as individual heads in a picture, and they can be read in global ways, as the meanings about culture, and society, and the time you live in. The morality of the time is actually involved in the reading of this picture. So, think about photography as being a flexible medium that expresses dramatic content, but also has the potential to read your emotions, and the sense of what time you live in. It's a very elastic and expansive, and expressive medium. You know, people often say, how do you make a funny picture? And, I think, well you know, I don't know how to make a funny picture. The funny pictures happen. So, for example, I was at the edge of the Grand Canyon and I'm walking along, and suddenly I see this woman weaving herself into the railings over the Grand Canyon where people aren't supposed to go, because they're afraid they're gonna fall only four thousand feet to the bottom. And, this crazy lady is doing that with her pocketbook hanging off at the same time, so, why? People do the most unexpected things and really, the witness is we with a camera. We photographers who are carrying a camera at the ready. We comment on the absurdities of ordinary life, of these crazy doings that other human beings get involved in, and often you can come up with an incredibly funny picture. Here's a picture that could be funny or not, depends on your point of view, but I was walking down the street in Manhattan, in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and this is what I see. Some guy in front of a window suddenly decides to like, drop his pants, and pose, and see how good he looks, and along the street comes another guy. He's like, huh, what? And, it's that kind of astonishment that makes for a photograph, but there's more in it. If you look carefully, and this comes from being a New Yorker, and living with races, and religions of all colors and beliefs. In the background it says Li-Lac Chocolates, and I'm looking at that guy's ass, and all I can think of is, how fortunate am I that these connections come up in a picture? That's not something you always wanna say, but in fact it's part of the joke, and really, New York humor makes jokes at everybody else's expense all the time. Whether it's your religion, or your color, or whatever it is you believe in. There's a kind of tough New York humor that accepts all of that craziness. Look at this, look at this! I was in Puerto Rico doing an advertising campaign and I was walking through a small square, and as I was walking through a guy on a bicycle, on a unicycle, a guy on a unicycle, comes pedaling by and he's got probably eight feet of flowers and balloons on his head, all kinds of colors. And, as he's biking by, he's getting his balance as you do on a unicycle, and I notice that his arm is stretched out the same way that the statue's arm is stretched out. It happens in a split second and it's gone. The statue is there forever, but the guy with the flowers was gone in 20 seconds, he was out of reach. When you carry a camera with you all the time, it's as if it's an invitation for surprises to happen. I was walking down the street in Mexico, I turned the corner into a little garden, and what I see is this. A boy, lying on the ground in the garden, with a stick, which he probably made into a kind of sword, you know? It's got a long pointy part and it's got a little cross handle and everything, but seen as it is in this photograph, he's lying there sort of with a cross on him. So, there are momentary parallels to you know, the history of a religious painting there. The epiphanies and the visions that people have had, and yet it was a totally innocent thing of a kid lying on the ground with his sword, but the reading is different, and I think part of photography's power, and its magic, is that there are many ways of interpreting the same thing. There's always a degree of ambiguity. We describe everything that's in the frame, and yet we're uncertain as to the meaning, and it's in that little space of ambiguity that photography gains a lot of power. So, keep that in mind when you're out there, that it looks like one thing, but it may resonate, and mean something else when you have it printed on a piece of paper, and you can hold in your hands.