2018 가을호 / 포스텍 에세이 / Looking Through The Lens
포스텍 에세이 / Looking Through The Lens
In photography, there is a genre known as street photography. Specific to this genre is a time honored phrase popularized by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. This well- known phrase (at least to street photographers) is called “the decisive moment”. Briefly, this is when the visual and psychological elements in a frame spontaneously and harmoniously come together, thus expressing the essence of a particular situation. In a simplistic nutshell, and to use one of my favorite English idioms; a photographer hopes for the stars to align when taking a photograph. Rarely, have I captured “a decisive moment”. In fact, I’ve taken thousands and thousands of photographs over the years and the true keepers that I consider my best work are minimal. Of course this may speak to my skills as a photographer, but that is another story. Being an enthusiastic amateur photographer, I would like to share a couple of things that I’ve learned over the years through photography that may enrich your life, or at the very least give you something to think about.
Subject, composition and light are important considerations for any photographer, and when they are in harmony, it creates an impressive photo worth viewing. Yet, often it is difficult to consistently find situations that lead to a well-balanced photograph or even rarer is a scene that presents the conditions (according to my perspective) to capture a fleeting decisive moment. On many occasions I have eagerly gone out with my camera only to return with mediocre or less than stellar results. But, rather than be discouraged or frustrated with my images, I find myself encouraged and motivated to continue in my goal of capturing a decisive moment, or at least, making a fantastic image. It is with each individual outing with my camera that I gain experience and notice small improvements in the quality of my images. As encouraging as this is, however, an image that I consider worthy of “a decisive moment” still eludes me. With this in mind, I look back at all the interesting travels, people that I have met, and unique experiences that have occurred from my goal of capturing a decisive moment. Or to change perspectives, all of the things I would not have had the chance to experience if I did not venture outside with my camera. If I had waited for the perfect photographic conditions (available light being most important) or the stars to align before I went out to shoot, I would have nothing. No mediocre images, no interesting experiences, and importantly, no photographic skill development. Accordingly, it would seem that life certainly has a way of passing you by if you wait for the perfect opportunity and aren’t willing to accept and deal with conditions that are less than perfect. The perfect job, relationship, roommate, course, professor, travel opportunity, internship or even the time to take a 6 month break from studying is uncommon or extraordinary. Each opportunity that comes your way is a chance to gain some valuable experience in some shape or form. Now, when lighting strikes and the perfect photo is before me I will be able to recognize it and be prepared to capture a “decisive moment” and I have all the boring and not so exciting photographic experiences in my past to thank for that. Similarly in life, grab onto as many experiences as you can and be thankful that some of them are going to be less than perfect.
In street photography there are several approaches to getting an image. One is to use a telephoto lens and to shoot your subject from a considerable distance. Often, your subject will not even know their picture was taken. I prefer not to use a telephoto for a couple of reasons. A telephoto lens is heavy and can really be burdensome if you are shooting for a considerable amount of time, the use of a telephoto severely restricts capturing the environment of your subject and the ability to catch any sort of emotion in your photograph is limited. Also, I feel (and this is quite subjective) I am stealing something without permission and this make me feel uncomfortable. The preferred method to take a great street photograph is to use a wide or moderate angle lens. With this method you are close to your subject, almost to the point of participating in whatever activity they are doing. Now the difficult part of this, well for me at least, was asking people for their permission to take their photograph. Asking random strangers on the street to take their photograph was way out of my comfort zone. However, once I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone it was a gratifying experience. I learned the phrase “Can I take your picture?” in Korea and what truly amazed me was how quickly I became comfortable outside of my comfort zone. Naturally, as you can imagine there were a few negative reactions (a lot of people would say why and often my elementary Korean skills would come up short) and overly positive reactions that served to ruin my image, but my social skills, language skills and photographs all improved. Hence, take some risks or chances and push the boundaries of your comfort zone, you may be surprised and pleased with the opportunities that result from it.
Initially, I was interested in landscape photograph and there was a certain image that I wanted to capture for myself. It was a beautiful image that I had seen in a travel magazine depicting the majestic peak of Cheonwangbong in Jirisan National Park. The tops of neighboring peaks barely peeking through the clouds reminded me of an iceberg breaking through the ice. I really wanted to capture that photograph for myself. Despite being patient and persistent, I never managed to get the image. But, I really did try. Carrying a tripod, camera, food and various other hiking things I attempted to capture this image on three different occasions. Weather wasn’t my friend on these trips. Either, rain, mist or general overcast prevented me from capturing the image. A good thing that I really enjoy hiking or my trips would have felt like a complete failure. But, my disappointment turned into several new creative avenues that I continue to pursue to this day. Whilst staring out from Cheonwangbong and taking photos of things around me, I realized how much colors pop against a grey overcast background, and I noticed how aesthetically pleasing it was to see gentle drops of rains fall from a solitary leaf. Interestingly, this last observation gave birth to another passion of mine-macro photography. Obviously, my initial plan was a failure (still to this day I haven’t captured that image) but, notably it has inspired me in a new creative way. I imagine that you have heard the phrase “if you fail try again” a thousand times, and for the most part it certainly is true, but let failure, rejection and any other disappointing experiences lead you in new creative directions. Try viewing the world through a positive lens and keep your eyes and ears open, so you don’t miss any decisive moments.