They say about photography that "the lens points both ways" and that the photograph is as much about the photographer as the subject. All the decisions made prior the the exact moment capture says volumes about the photographer as a person and artist. That said is photography, since despite all the prior work that leads up to being on location with the subject, essentially a mutual performance by the subject and photographer both working in some kind of harmony? Given that, isn’t "real time" photography when you are not fully in control of your circumstances and the motion/emotion of the subject, such as news, documentary and wildlife, a kind of performance art?
I think so but not in the kooky "I’ll paint my self green, wear a diaper, bang on a drum while reciting love poetry backwards and call it art" way. Rather it’s both art, because it sure ain’t science, and very much in the moment performance but not in a putting on a show manner.
Let’s call it "visual jazz". Yeah, I like that. As a jazz musician you have a basic framework to start from: a main melody, a key and tonality for the song, a general structure and the rest you kind of make up as you go: it’s all about the improv. In the kind of work that I do it’s very much improvisation and for me that is a large part of the thrill: I really don’t know what I’m going to find or come back with. I have a starting point and know what I should try to maybe do but once I show up I’m making it up as I go. Yep – pure fakery. Well, not really as there is a lot of inspiration, come colaboration and a bunch of perspiration but I am pulling things out of the air. I don’t ever have hard and fast guidelines – you can’t. There are too many variables for a guy sitting at a desk in, say, Miami to figure out what I’m going to encounter on location. They have to let me make it work regardless of how awful the conditions are. It’s a lot of pressure and frankly my dear, I dig it.
So no matter where I go, if I’m working, it’s me soloing over the chorus and putting a twist on the melody and chord voicings. I know what I’m supposed but bring back, let’s call it a "portrait". I know that it’s of a guy who does this thing; it’s for a client who likes images with a certain quality. But once I get there, the spotlight is one me. I start pulling things out of my bag of licks and tricks and try to make a seamless flowing statement that says something to the audience. It can’t seem like a few tired old things loosely stapled together. Nope, it has to be a solid whole or everyone with any experience will see the holes and shoddy craftsmanship/artistry and we can’t have that.
So you practice and practice and learn a lot and practice some more. You make lots of mistakes until you stop thinking about what you are going to do and you just start doing it. Your "art" becomes a natural extension of yourself when your mind, heart and body meld into an unconscious one. Yet all the choices that I made that lead to the final image say who and what I am as a photographer – that’s obvious to anyone who can read the signs.
I was thinking about this last night as I was packing up my gear from shooting the amazing, funny and infectious band Gogol Bordello. They write some shamelessly wacky tunes that you can’t get out of your head. Their live shows are totally bizarre, over the top, hilarious and full of life. As a photographer it’s hard to keep up with their madness and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all like a mad dance for them up there and for me whenever I’m making photographs. Next up: blues in E flat minor 1..2..3..4….
Technicals: Nikon D200 @ ISO 500. Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8. set to 17mm. 1/60th sec @ f/2.8. Auto white balance.