Saturday, September 19, 2015

Every Photograph is a Battle....

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 Paris 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 Paris 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.

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).