I spend a lot of my time photographing what isn’t there.
Oft-times I will say that what you leave out of your frame is every bit as important as what you include. As a photographer I am always editing my world, getting rid of the bits that don’t fit, are wrong, or that make more of a statement by their absence. Those other arty types get it easy. If you don’t want a red van in your image of 2 medieval re-enactors fighting in a tourney, just don’t paint it. As for what you do with the space, just make it up. Photographers rarely have that sort of option.
Of course, it can be turned around in your favour, if you think a bit laterally. When I started photographing landscapes I was immensely frustrated by the omnipresent power lines getting in every shot. I could have moaned and muttered, but instead I started taking pictures of power lines, poles and pylons. I now have a large number of images in my “Power” series.
Usually deciding the matter of what is excluded from the frame is aided by choice of lens, shooting high or low key, moving around and angles. Increasingly, my favourite lens is my DA* 50-135mm f2.8. It allows me to show a part of the whole, and offers the viewer the opportunity to participate in the work by creating the rest of the whole in their mind. It’s wide aperture allows me to exclude things with blur, and to create tension because of the location of the focal point. I enjoy the ambiguity and tension this can cause in a viewer, especially if what they think should be the prime subject is out of focus. I want them to wonder why I, as the artist, decided to do that. It even creeps into my image naming conventions, where I fairly regularly name the image for a constituent part that isn’t the main subject. It may be named for the negative space, or another, lesser, element. Again, it’s all about getting the viewer engaged with my imagery, and looking for ways to include their own stories in relation to the image. Shooting high or low key is a magic way of photographing what is there, but the viewer will never see it. They have to fill that space themselves. I’m also a huge fan of moving around when I shoot. It’s all too easy to stand there, camera held at your eye level, which is about 1.65m for me and let the zoom do the work. I’m happy to crawl on the ground on my back, or climb atop of a trailer to get a different perspective. When you do that, you actually get to see how much you’re not photographing. It’s a lot. And choice of lens length is important, because it not only changes how much is excluded from the shot (not a lot with my Sigma 10-20mm). Of course, telephotos contract objects, making them appear closer together, whilst wide angle lenses increase the apparent distance between objects.
But, having said all that, the most important thing that isn’t there when I take the shot is the finished version of the image. In the post-processing (in the old days we called it the darkroom) more exclusions happen. It might be “healing” a blemish on a portrait, or the inevitable loss when I crop to square format, which is quite often. I can exclude, but not totally, by burning in or dodging, using tricks of light to make you look where I want you to look, often in a given order. You see, we can be a crafty and subtle lot, us ‘togs.
For me it’s not just “snapping” away. I suppose that is why I am doing more minimalism pieces, as I exclude anything extraneous, distracting or incapable of contributing to the image. However, even in the most extreme cases of stripping back an image to nought but a couple or three lines the result is still ambiguous, inviting the viewer the space to take part in the dialog by creating their own story. In this age of masses of information, all the time, I think it’s my protest. Less is more, but to get to the less there is pruning to be done. Music, as the wise philosopher, Mr Steven Wilson of British neo-prog musical ensemble Porcupine Tree, is only as loud as the silence it breaks.It’s my Zen side coming out, balancing the visual assault that is modern life with a tranquility, though not without an element of tension, but that tension thing is a story for another time!