Thursday, December 20, 2007

Noncontrol Freak

"I used to worry about things like the edges and if there were dust specks. Now I just look for little fragments that capture my eye and I forget about the rest of it." --Marsha Burns, Blue Sky Lecture, 6/13/02

This quote has been in my mind lately as I've been learning the boundaries of a new lens. The lens is a 40 mm. My camera doesn't have 40 mm framelines. The viewfinder shows 50 mm framelines and by pushing a lever I can get 35 mm framelines to appear. Toggling between framelines I can see a rough sense of what will be encompassed by 40 mm but it is just an estimate. There is no way to precisely place things into corners or along the edge. The other side of the equation is that I print fullframe and never crop 35 mm negs, meaning whatever is in the frame stays in the frame. So the exact composition of my photos is now beyond my control.

Photographers have a tendency to be anal. A lack of precise control would drive many of them crazy. But I have actually come to embrace it. I'm following Marsha Burns' advice, just looking for fragments and letting the rest of the image fall where it may. The feeling is similar to when I first began using the Noblex. I used it handheld at very slow shutter speeds, and combined with a very approximate viewfinder I often had less than a foggy idea of what I'd captured. I think part of the appeal of Holga or Diana cameras is a similar lack of control.

This attitude is the polar opposite of the f/64 mentality which dominated American photography for so long. Can you imagine Ansel Adams taking a photo without total awareness of the frame's edges? Even Henri Cartier-Bresson, though more of a risk taker than Adams, made a point of composing in the viewfinder. He rarely cropped, and his influence in this regard was pervasive. Control is of course required, but there is a give and take. Too much control becomes a limitation. The photo looks too planned. I think a little chance is essential to good photography, and to good life in general, and lately the 40 has helped inject that.

No comments: