February 9th, 2007

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(no subject)

Hipshot: One Handed, Auto-Focus Photographs by a Master Photographer
by Ken Heyman
Aperture, 1988

I got this book because this is a style of street photography that I've wanted to explore. I've made a couple stabs at it in the past, but been dissatisfied with the results. The things Ken Heyman says in his afterword that I found helpful are: (a) the shots you expect are never there; (b) the shots you didn't expect are keepers; (c) there's a very low hit rate.

Basically, he took a cheap 35mm camera, auto-everything, and shot without looking through the viewfinder. The lines are crooked, odd things are in and out of focus, subjects are clipped, it's hard to tell what's going on. The effect was to free him from his own expectations of what the equipment provides. It also freed him from some of the constraints of his assignment photography that had become deep habits, such as straight horizon lines.

What this book really shows is that it's the eye, and not the equipment, that makes the difference. (Don't expect me to sell any of my equipment, though.) Heyman, with 25+ years experience (at time of publication) shooting for Time, Life, and Look, knew when something was happening worth photographing, and he could relate what his eye saw to what the film plane was likely to capture. Another important part of the process was the editing, the selection: "After working in this method for a year I accumulated about five hundred 5x7 work prints. I lined both sides of my hallway from floor to ceiling with these images, and for three months lived with them, carefully combining and editing them. When people passed through the hallway I took notice of which photographs struck them. I spent many hours pacing up and down this narrow passageway discarding pictures, adding others. The hall became a laboratory for this book."

The effect can be pretty shocking. Faces are cut off, foregrounds are cluttered. "What stories are these?" I kept asking myself. Some photos look like they've captured frantic action, you can practically hear the yelling or commotion. Others look like they've captured pauses. A moment ago, something happened; a moment from now, something will happen. The pause itself is as dramatic as any action.