845 – What It Is

I said it once, I said it twice, I say it again: I am a big admirer of Mark Hobson’s work, but there is one thing that always buggered me, I didn’t know why!

Sure, Mark’s images are brilliantly composed and that with a consistency that speaks of his long experience and of utter certainty of expression, but that is not all. There is something in his subjects that I could not identify, some quality of seeing, a way to look at the world, that absolutely bewildered me.

Now, in a recent post, Mark has shed some light on it, borrowing the term “dense photography” from a recent article by Matthew Summers-Sparks.

It was a revelation. Suddenly I not only saw that quality, suddenly I could name it, and it fascinated me so much, that I decided to give it a try. Wednesday night, on my way home, I wanted to make dense photos.

Oh my, that’s hard. In a way I have trained myself to see isolated subjects, to see details and to isolate them in my mind, and in this very process they become subjects in the first place.

Mark’s notion of “plain seeing” as I understand it, letting loose of attached meanings, diving into the world around us as a strictly visual world, has always felt natural to me, yes, if there is something like “my method”, then this is probably it, but photographing dense, that’s a completely different story.

The images of this post were made in the order presented, the Image of the Day first, and the Image of the Day is probably the best example for what I was after. Note, that I did not try to exactly copy Mark’s style, that’s not the point, I tried to find out what “dense photography” could mean to me, and in the Image of the Day you see all the elements.

On first view it is hard to tell what this photography “is about”. There are some cars, in fact there is an assortment of cars, all cut off, going from near to far, there is a street with a curve, or a crossing, you don’t know, there is a bicycle on the corner and a lit house in the background.

This is a place that I pass by almost once a day, and I have made many, many images at or around that corner, some of the house in the background, a hotel that in the evening is nicely lit with colored lights, but none of them has ever made it for Image of the Day. Well, one did, “629 – Electric Ladyland V” back in July, but that was not about the street, it was more about roofs.

Today’s Image of the Day is about the place, about what it is, about what it feels like to be there, and, interestingly enough, it is a perfect rendition of that. Well, we could argue that any snapshot could do that, as long as it were wide enough, and to a certain degree that is correct, but I wouldn’t be satisfied with any snapshot. With this image I am 🙂

I have no idea what “dense photography” means to Matthew Summers-Sparks, I have not read the article yet, but I have bookmarked it for reading later, probably today on the train. I do have an idea what it may mean to Mark Hobson, and now I certainly know what it means to me, and that is: context and relationships between things.

The world is a very complex place full of things. Any perspective reveals different relationships between those things, and the way we frame them emphasizes some of these relationships and cuts others.

Dense photography is in no way easy to do. Finding a perspective that gives a pleasant alignment of the things included, causes me to shift around much more than I normally do. I have often noticed, that I am satisfied with the initial perspective, i.e. I see an isolated detail, it tickles my fancy, I photograph it from that perspective, and when it happens while I walk, I might even take a step back to get to the perspective that I had when I saw it first.

Not so with dense photography. I want to frame the place as it is, but I want to align things the way I like them, thus I have to wiggle around and to change perspectives until I get a well balanced frame, and it is interesting as well, that a square frame seems to help a lot. All three attempts at photographing dense profited much from being cropped to a square. It could be Mark’s influence here, but maybe there is something to the square, a casual elegance of balance that is inherent to the format, and maybe it supports dense photography better than other formats. Or maybe I’m just talking nonsense here 🙂

The last two photographs were made on another corner, here I have let loose, they are more my usual style, but of course the last one is in a way dense all by itself. After all, it seems density is not so alien to me.

The Song of the Day is “What It Is” from Mark Knopfler’s 2000 album “Sailing to Philadelphia”. I had to look for quite a while until I found a video. Searching on YouTube lets you only find some videos that are all “not available in your country” (though I’m sure they work fine in the US), but then I noticed that Google offered a link Video on its search page, and here they were, all available in my country, most of them on YouTube, most of them not to be found by YouTube’s search. Oh well.

Of all the videos I prefer this one on DailyMotion for its good sound quality and perfect live feeling.

5 thoughts on “845 – What It Is”

  1. He he he. Welcome on board. Mark has a great inspirational power. Have a look a the pictures most of his followers publish.
    As for me when I found his photos last year I suddenly was transfixed as well.
    But i would be more careful about the term dense. I have read the article. It is far from what Mark is doing. The article seems to go only on the complexity of the subject.
    I am more on the side you describe, that of the look. But that is not enough. Mark also has a highly dense set of references. Eggleston, Weston and Emerson. The latter for straight photography is the certain reference. I am sure, given his multiple references along the posts, that the is quite well aware of this.

  2. The brain is a lazy piece of meat. It only gets so much power from the body, so it conserves it… frequently floating along through its inputs, translating only those that grab its attention and allowing the rest to pass into oblivion. Which is to say that much that we look at may as well not exist, because it is invisible to us because it goes unprocessed.

    That means that it is VERY difficult for the artist to even see the everyday things. Worse yet we become negative toward even looking… or over-riding our brain’s filtration process. How many times have you said, “Can’t do that, I’ve done it before.” or “Can’t find anything new there… to boring. Need to turn my eyes fresh upon something new.” And so on…

    And that means that we find it hard to really create a sense of place since we no longer use our lens to picture… show… create that place. We can no longer bring our sense of subjectivity to the commonplace because… the brain is a lazy piece of meat.

    And here you have found a device to “Plain See” or to see the plain. This Dense Picturing is a way to pull back from picturing the gem and instead seeing the necklace… the model… her admirer… the location in which he is admiring and she being admired… and the culture that created it… all in a palette and framing which is sufficiently unique that no one has ever experienced that way before.

    I’m happy that you’ve discovered this macro world and while your micro pieces have added up to an ability to pierce your thoughts … these images do open a larger window. Wonderful…

    BTW… the palette is particularly resonant in these images. Were any of these images the result of a tripod support?

  3. “Dense” ? Hmmmm, I’m not sure about that concept, but it definitely has that ” roundness ” to the quality of light that I commented on in post #819. I like it a lot.

  4. I meant to comment on this yesterday, but simply didn’t have the time. And with your postings, if you miss a day, you’re a bit behind!

    So you’ve gone over to the “dark side” huh? (Just kidding.)

    Seriously, though, this whole concept of dense photography or seeing things “plainly” is, for me, just smoke and mirrors with a camera. It’s roughly analagous to adding more words to a paragraph or more plots or storylines to a novel or more notes to a musical score, all the while keeping things as commonplace or as mundane as possible.

    Your image, for example, certainly has a “sense of place” for you, and probably many others. But for most of us, it doesn’t. And there simply isn’t anything there that’s out of the ordinary to command my attention. I could drive through the city of Rochester and take countless similar images at any number of places. But why would I? How would that be different from what I can see any day, anytime? It’s the same question I’ve been asking Mark for some time: What’s wrong with photographing the unusual or the unique? Conversely, what story am I telling by photographing something that can be “plainly” seen by anyone, anywhere? It’s true that we tend not to see the mundane in our lives. We pass right by them. The point is, we have seen them – we choose not to see them anymore for a reason. They’re just not interesting anymore. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our ability “to see” things. It just means that the ordinary is just that – ordinary.

    At one point you say that for you, dense photography is “context and relationships between things”. And that is different from any other photograph – how? Isn’t that what every photograph is about?

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