Saturday, October 17, 2009

More than just photos...stories

Plus que des photos, des histoires (More than just photos, stories) reads Canon's current slogan, seen on huge banners right now inside the Salon de la Photo in Paris. Naturally, it made me think of this month's theme. And I'm glad that it did, because thinking about story turned an otherwise crowded, hot, zoo of an atmosphere into my own personal safari.

The difference between the expo-as-zoo (complete with caged displays) and the expo-as-hunting-expedition was a sudden shift in my perspective. To return to (and mistranslate for my own purposes) the huge Canon banner— it's all about your reflex and your objectives. My initial reflex when I stepped inside the large exposition hall was to remember the PMA convention in Vegas not so long ago, say "been there, done that" to myself, and leave.

But then I looked at the Canon banner and found myself agreeing with their premise. Not the ridiculous commercial premise that photos taken with a Canon are superior (although I do use a Canon, so I wish it were true), but with the idea that not all photos are stories. In fact, I think that a lot of photos are not stories. Some photos are more like "to do" lists (Me in front of Notre Dame. Check. Me in front of the Eiffel Tower. Check.) or doodles (bokeh experiments, abstract streaks of light in long exposures, etc.). Sometimes a photo is a fragment of a sentence. But whole stories are not always so easy to come by.

Everyone taking the same photo of a model.

The photo I took of what was happening beneath their feet.

My best piece of advice from the experience is that if you want stories, you need to stop looking at the thing, and start looking at the story of the thing. When I made a conscious decision to look for stories at the photo expo, I became more interested in my environment. When people were all crowding into a space to look at a display in the way the vendor intended, I didn't feel the need to compete. Instead, I could step back and observe the competition itself.

From their end—elbowing other photographers to take a photo of a girl in front of a giant "Olympus" sign. From my end—no elbowing necessary, and I get a photo of the girl and the fight to photograph her instead of a camera ad.

I imagined a parent applying this same attitude to a kid's soccer game (I say "a parent" because we haven't had a kid in soccer since Max was 4). I imagined that parent taking a more documentary approach to the event, one that included other parents reacting to the game, other kids. One that included the other team.

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir, but if the general public is anything like it was yesterday at the photo show, I would venture to say that most people gravitate toward the same spot to take the same photo. Again and again.

Watching people interact with people will likely lead to some kind of story.

When I changed my objective from shopping mode to documentary mode, the stories began to appear.

"Older man befriends group of goth teens" was a nice story to witness.

If this "monthly special" about story and that Canon ad hadn't triggered a change in objective for me, I would have spent ten euros on a photo show only to leave after five minutes to spend 10 more at the movies. The movies are still in theaters. The photo show ends tomorrow. And even though I was not interested in any of the products, I am glad I got to see the stories.


michelle said...

I love the b&w shot of all the photographers. And the little boy at the woman's feet.

Too funny that the woman with the snake doesn't seem to be drawing anyone's attention but yours, she looks so bored!

Michelle said...

My favorite is the boy on his Dad's shoulders - love that photo! I find it surprising that with all their high tech gear, these photographers have a mind set to function as one of the pack.

Miranda said...

I love the change of perspective/attitude. Those are some really great thinking stories more deliberately this week.