I was struck by this iconic photo by Bruce Gilden. It pulled me in and made me look, then look again.
In his Theory & Practice article, Gilden talks about using contact sheets to select his photos and how this particular picture jumped off the page.
When I look at a contact sheet, I go in order from No. 1 to No. 36. I mark the ones I like and, unless something really jumps off the page at me, I go over them again to see which is the best one. With my personal work, I only print what I think is good. When something jumps off the page, it’s easy. That photograph jumped off the page. It worked, form-wise and emotionally. To me, the photograph says a lot about the hierarchy in Japanese society, with the underling lighting the cigarette of the person above him, and I like the wary eye that the ‘boss’ gives the photographer.”– Bruce Gilden, “Making the Image: Yakuza”
I had to think about the No. 1 to No. 36 reference. Much like my introduction to contact sheets, I had to remember that Gilden was a photographer using film. Rolls of film came in sets of thirty six exposures. Contact sheets were the printed strips of negatives in a roll of film. I only do digital (never prints), so the concept of numbers and contact sheets don’t apply. Or does it?
When my husband and I go on photo shoots, we have a running joke. How many pictures will we take today? For a full day of walking and shooting, I typically max out at 200 shots. With casual walks, I’ll do about 50. Hubby? He’ll take more, much much more.
I am motivated by laziness. I don’t take the time to compose, take, adjust and re-take photos. I prefer to spot, shoot and move on. At the end of day, I load everything into Lightroom, scanning and flagging the ones that interest me. It’s a task that gets tedious with more than 200 pictures. I suppose though, that scanning and flagging in LR, is the digital equivalent to reviewing and marking physical contact sheets.
But no matter how much I scan, I will never find a shot as good as Bruce Gilden’s. His photos fill the frame and have a complexity of human emotion and interplay. I don’t have anything approaching Gilden’s image, but his focus on hands and cigarettes reminded me of one.
I was on a street photography workshop in Singapore’s Chinatown. We had an assignment to take as many street portraits as we could, review and select the best and share with the group.
Chinatown on a weekend is a busy place but beyond the crowds, there is a covered alcove where old men gather to play and watch Chinese chess. This gentleman and his friends were camped out in one corner. He’d caught my eye because of his natty hat, rings and distinctive gravitas. We didn’t speak the same language but we knew enough for me to ask “Photo?” and him to say “OK.”
I took a quick set of shots. In this contact sheet you can see my ideas, along with the cuddabins. i.e. those photos that cudda’ bin good if only I’d gone a little slower, paid attention and not chopped off his fingers.
In any event, this is the picture that I selected. I liked the capture of his hands and his expression as he looks at the camera.
Feedback from my workshop peers was kind. When asked what word comes to mind, someone shouted out “Secrets.”
What about you? What word comes to mind with this photo? I’d love to hear your comments.
Photos taken in Singapore, 2016