In a complex world of action and vision it’s often difficult to separate the trees from the forest.
In the early days of photography there was a tendency for photographers to emulate the painters or to use the photograph to assist the artist with his composition. The photograph was a means of recording the complexity of the world with all its detail. It was ‘real’.
As photographers experimented with their new tool, they discovered that the photograph was also a way of simplifying the sometimes chaotic view before them. They could choose what would be ‘in the frame’ or not, eliminating the unnecessary and focussing on the important detail.
The photographers were finding another language; the language of photography.
But often there were no words to describe what they had achieved, so they drew on existing words to define their pictorial vocabulary.
‘Simplicity’ is one such term. It was used to give a sense of ‘oneness’ in which the image could stand on its own and tell the story, that the contents contained nothing more in detail than was required by the photographer to achieve his purpose.
Those that shone in this particular milieu were the new breed of street photographers who could seemingly extract from the confusion of everyday life a simple and direct element at which we could view, seemingly from a distance, the ‘moment in time’. And in that moment we could reflect on the inter-actions without distraction, then project our own perspective into the image.
Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Kertesz, Bown, Atget, Lewis, Croner, Frank, Evans, Klein, the list is long. Often their story was one of humour, tension, power, loneliness, connectedness, dissociation, fear and community. Contradictions and connections in a complex society. The simple step of a well heals woman in the busy street, the innocent kiss of lovers under the shade of a tree, the derelict sleeping on the park bench, the face in the window, the trappings of everyday life.
As these photographers developed their ‘style’ and found new ways of expressing themselves they discovered something incredibly significant in the way they saw the world. Fleeting glances of the street became their ‘reality’, as if each moment was a part of a continuum. What they captured was the beginning and not the end of a journey. We could project ourselves into the future and see what optimism the photographer displayed in each moment. The story was simple. This is how we are now. The future will be someone else’s image. Better, brighter, clearer.
For the photographer, ‘simplicity’ isn’t a physical attribute; it’s a concept. It’s when all those elements that a photographer uses (frame, perspective, focus, time) come together and the viewer feels the connection immediately with the image because they understand the meaning. The vocabulary of the photograph is unambiguous and clear. You, as the viewer, may not find the words to describe what you see. You don’t need to. It’s the language of the photograph that provides that for you. There may never be words to describe it. That’s why photography is such a powerful communicator when done well. It substitutes for what we cannot say.
Stand on any corner of any boulevard with a camera and the simplicity of life will reveal itself. At that moment the simple action of seeing and recording a fragment of the world through the lens of a camera is as unique and profound as it comes.
It’s that simple!