Gary Winogrand claimed that every photograph is a battle between form and content. If you expand ‘form’ to include print quality and change ‘battle’ to ‘race’ then I really agree with this.
I’m big on content (see January 2010). That is not to say that I don’t spend a lot of effort trying to make my prints sing. I want it all. Sometimes I have to accept that a print is only going to hum loudly. I just made one (above).
I really like this photograph – the content: mom and daughter going off to a
street market on a chilly Saturday. The form: not so much.
The negative is just a bit soft, depth of field is right where I want it but the background/foreground contrast is low, it’s a grab shot so there is a lot of extra background to be cropped off. After three head-banging sessions in the darkroom I have declared victory at the “loud hum” level. That’s as good as it’s going to get.
One of my all-time favorites is by the great Willy Ronis – “Merchands de frites, Rue Rambeteau, 1946”.
Two young women are behind the counter of a sidewalk shop. The print is grainy, it’s not very sharp, the skin tones are muddy on one face, it was obviously strained out of a very soft negative. I suspect that the tapestry of Ronis’ French profanity while he was printing it is still hanging over
somewhere. Would either of these prints
be ‘better’ if they were tack-sharp, if the subject/background separation was
more obvious, if the skin tones were opened up?
Beats me. Paris
I try to keep Ronis’ print in mind when I am watching the form versus content race. The best outcome of the battle is a draw in which both win. Sometimes content wins and form is close enough. Sometimes form wins (and the print winds up in the recycle bin).