Reverse-Engineering Fine Art: Mobile Soft Power

Holistic Photography is a medium for communication. Without significance, be that a didactic message, the preservation of beauty (or horror) or the intentional transmission of a feeling, photographs can be empty and impotent.

The camera is a scanner. It can record what you place in front of it with incredible detail. When I began it was to capture those things in the world I couldn’t reach or keep, and save some impression of them. In fact I began with a fascination of crows.

As I matured as an artist by studying the work of others and with increased self-knowledge, so my photography evolved. Now, I aim to have the photographs express some (often inexpressible) message or emotion that I’d otherwise have tried to fit into poetry.

Studying literature, I often wondered why we couldn’t just email the authors who were still alive and simply ask them what they meant. Well apparently it’s not the done thing. As my Holistic Photography improves, I’m starting to understand why.

Here, I break protocol and just tell you, as simply as possible, what I was trying to achieve in photographs I’m happy with. I do so with an understanding that a great photograph stands alone without explanation, but after Feynman’s amazing talk on Beauty, I hope that these thoughts only add to your appreciation.

Holistic Photography divides the medium into two symbiotic parts, Craft and Art. Therefore, as well as telling you WHY I created a certain photograph. I’ll also tell you HOW.

Let’s start with this photograph;

Holistic Photography Fine Art How To Advanced

Holistic Photography: The Photograph Is Just The Messenger

Art:

Painters have a large advantage that they can pick and choose what they want in their scene so everything can add to the intended message. Unless we’re using Photoshop, photographers have to do this filtering with the camera. What doesn’t add to the photograph, detracts from it. So we try and keep things simple.

What have we got in the frame? Executive-looking cars with a pair of hands holding a ‘phone in the closest one, and police vans in the distant background. Both are intended as symbols.

This photograph is about the nature of modern ‘soft’ power. It owes a lot to Hannah Arendt. Essentially, power is now detached from the powerful. Arendt says that power is with the people; the majority. But that violence, or the threat of it, can thwart the exercise of the power through fear.

Isn’t this true? I won’t get too political but suffice to say that mistakes have been made by those ‘at the top’ and these have largely escaped solution; indeed still continue.

Protests are sometimes labelled as low-level domestic terrorism, and yet in a two party ‘democracy’, they are one of the only manifestations of power that the people retain. In England, surveillance is used as a weapon a la Foucault.

Truth is, our leaders aren’t chosen based on physical strength but on the ability to make good decisions; which I’m very glad about! This means that their choices about the society must be implemented with the threat of physical violence by proxy.

This is obvious when you look at how protesters are routinely beaten and often gassed when they disobey the law or the officers whose brave duty it is to enforce it.

And when they fight back with stones and clubs, they are changing nothing. Watching the downtrodden fight with the police, I get the impression of dogs biting at the whip that beats them.

And power is now increasingly mobile, detached. It used to be mean man-t0-man combat with a sword; now we have the ability to strike unseen from the other side of the world with Predator drones.

So this photograph is about that change. Smart phones are ubiquitous in developed countries, and are much more than just a phone. The future is mobile. Power is no longer a man with a gun. It´s an anonymous pair of hands with a phone.

Craft:

This photograph was pretty straightforward to take. It was taken with a Pentax MX-1, which is essentially a compact camera.

ISO100 was used for the best quality because the smaller sensor will be more prone to noise and smudging of the detail.

This low ISO required a large aperture of f2.2 to give a shutter speed of 1/60s which I could hand-hold with sharp results. The aperture was also chosen to give a shallow depth of field so the police vans didn´t dominate the photo.

Otherwise, the main concern was the simplicity, and this was achieved by tight framing. I waited for a few people to move out of the frame before taking the shot as they would have distracted from the meaning.

I cropped out the man´s face because the idea of the photograph was the anonymity of power. I also ensured that ´Policia´ can be read in full; again slightly out of focus so as not to draw too much attention.

The soft light ensured that there weren´t too many shadows, and I adjusted the white balance to give a cold, dispassionate feel to the photograph as well as to give a monochromatic colour scheme. I moved to get the blue light reflections.

And that´s it! The meaning behind the photograph; and how it was achieved.

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