A Photographic Story

There’s a saying, ”every photograph tells a story”.  That may, or may not, be true for all photographs, but for me, there’s usually a story about each of the photographs, or series, I create.

The following is the story of how these images were created.

Years ago, I joined a local camera club.  I was looking for fellow photographers to discuss the art of photography with and by sharing, hoping to gain some additional insight into the creative process.  Perhaps, too lofty an objective.  What I found was a collection of individuals who met weekly more as a social occasion and happened to take pictures based on a series of camera club rules.  Their activities were based on group meetings, where the group’s title defined the groups purpose - B&W Photo Group, Darkroom (analog) Group, New Members Group, New Exposures, and Studio.

During my first Studio Group meeting, I discovered the club had some ancient studio lighting (tungsten) and electronic flash equipment, a lot of which didn’t work, and some of which did, but not in any consistent way, plus some important pieces were missing, misplaced, gone or never existed.  Suffice to say the session was interesting.

No one was actually in charge of the Studio Group at the time.  Apparently, the previous leader had left the club and no one had volunteered to step in, so I stepped up, as the saying goes, and volunteered.  I had only one condition, the executive had to raid their substantial bank balance and spring for some new, modern studio electronic flash equipment.  After some initial reluctance - it seemed the fact the club had a large cash reserve had become a matter of pride - the required money was made available and the desired lighting equipment was purchased and the old equipment conveniently disappeared.  One interesting fact - no one questioned my qualifications for the position.

My first Studio Group detailed how to set up, use and take down and carefully store the equipment.  The meeting was enthusiastically attended.  The large studio had enough space to create two individual setup locations separated by moveable large dividers.  Each location had its own roll of backdrop paper.  I took a poll to find out what lighting skills the members were most interested in learning about.  Portrait lighting came out as the top, then still life, food and stop motion.

As the new Studio Manager (their title, not mine), I had to do all the set up and take down of the electronic flash equipment, decide what each session was going to offer, arrange for any models, record the names of all members who wanted to attend a particular session, and on and on.  We had the usual portrait sessions with paid, or some times unpaid, models, usually female, which meant there would be a preponderance of male members attending those sessions.  Each model was also offered prints or digital files of any images they liked or wanted to use for whatever purpose.

At one general meeting evening, I offered to run a Studio session on movement, but not stop motion.  The suggestion was greeted by total silence.  So I elaborated.  I told the group I’d arrange for two rhythmic gymnasts to attend the session and have them preform a number of simple gymnastic moves, which members could make blurred motion photographs of using B&W film cameras, or digital cameras.  We’d the use the tungsten lights.  The objective was to experiment with various slow shutter speeds and learn from the resulting images, the artistic, interpretive and creative potential. Suddenly, the light dawned on some of them and hands shot up with questions.  I wanted to use the gymnasts because they knew how to move in a graceful and purposeful manner.  The session was attended by about an even split between male and female photographers, which, to me, made it an instant success.

In my school days, I practised this blurred motion exercise using 4x5 Polaroid film and a 4x5 camera.  So I personally was looking forward to participating. As the Studio Lead (I dropped the Manager title), I rarely took an active part in any session.  It was my job to ensure everyone had an equal opportunity to take their desired photos so no one felt left out.  But on this night, I brought my film camera equipped with a longer lens.  In my mind’s eye, I saw more close up images with a flattened perspective.

I arranged the Studio with two set ups and used the tungsten lighting.  One set had a white backdrop, while the other had a black one.  Each girl would work one set up for a specific period of time.  Members could move from one set up to the other as they wished.  After a time, I moved both girls to the set up with the white backdrop and had them work together.  This was my preferred set up to make my exposures.  I processed the film, and made some analog B&W prints from the negatives in my personal darkroom.  I then scanned the negatives and imported them into Adobe Lightroom and proceeded to forget about them.  (Seems to be a disconcerting habit I have.)  A weeks ago, I rediscovered the scanned image files.  As I studied the negative/positive scanned image of each negative side by side a “What if I…?” question formed in my mind.

In Ancient Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is a Chinese philosophical concept describing how opposite, or contrary, forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.  To represent this concept, I deiced to combined the negative/positive scans of an individual negative into one B&W photograph.  The blurred motion increased the images’ emotional impact for me.

These negative/positive photographs express the seen and unseen movement of the human body.  As we watch a gymnast, or a dancer move on a stage, we don’t actually see all the movement.  Some gestures happen too quickly for our eyes and brains to consciously register, while other much slower movements hold our attention completely.  I find these photographs allow me to more fully appreciate that which our eyes and brains often miss and now allows our brains to focus on and more fully appreciate what the camera sees.

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