leo photophile

Through a glass darkly

A poor player

There is another thing about photography that engages me, if I can find a way to put it. In contrast to Josef Koudelka’s iconic pictures I have always been conscious of what I would call the extraordinary-ordinary coincidence. You get it in old postcards of streets possibly photographed on a Saturday afternoon with omnibuses and folk bussling about so many long summers gone by. It is a bit hypnotic; the image registers a sort of conjuring trick.

I suppose this is about unconsciousness.

A photograph could be said to be essentially once-and-for-all, and its power to convey feeling and affect the viewer depends on the photographer’s readines for the chance eventuality that corresponds with his own aesthetic (a mystery in itself, of course).

The sense I am trying to get at does not always follow. For then, the images of soldiers, gypsies and peasants, for instance, that Josef Koudelka so brilliantly captures, impart to his subjects a kind of emblematic and representative standing. Perhaps the “better” a picture the more this evanescent effect I am in touch with recedes.

Kneeling Josef Koudelka: Irish gypsies

Whereas now, I envisage spotting the subject from the top deck of the 82 bus of an early morning. There he is on the pavement at the end of Piccadillly as the bus rounds into Hyde Park Corner. He wanders uncertainly next to the scaffolding  in full tribal regalia (as it happens), appearing like “a poor player” who happens upon the stage open-mouthed, and then is seen no more. That is his entire character, not a representation that can be made to stand for anything else, but just this unannounced appearance and his straightway vanishing, as the bus hurls into the bend on its way to Victoria, this lostness – almost, it could be claimed, not all there at all.  Because it is about the wonder of a glimpse into a hidden existence which draws along with it its inscutible origins and its eventual fate – people on the way somewhere, mindless and preoccupied, and – noticed, just before sinking into the unattainable.

How do you get a photograph to convey such a thing? Well, I felt the buzz again when I looked at this picture of Stieglitz’ recently:

Snapshot Paris Snapshot, Paris, 1911


August 11, 2006 - Posted by | black and white photography

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