A lot of firsts.
As I work through my archives and share newly “found” images with you, I realized that you are seeing a lot of firsts.
A few days ago, you saw my first New Orleans picture. Today you are seeing my first Mardi Gras picture. I made this picture in 1999. On film. Fuji Velvia to be exact. The film was slow, even for its time. I usually worked at ISO 32. That explains the total movement in this picture. Even at f2.8, the shutter speed would likely be around 1/4 of a second. Way too slow to stop motion, especially in the darkness in which I worked.
I made it even harder, by liking to work at F 5.6. That meant the shutter speed would be around one second. You can stop no motion with that shutter speed.
Working this way, at night, meant you either failed entirely or you made something dreamy and moving. The images could look like a watercolor painting, or they could be a mess. Even with all the working knowledge I have, pictures like this depend on a couple of things. One is clicking the shutter where there is just enough light. The other is a kind of luck. Not photographer’s luck, but the kind where everything comes together in one second. With practice and experience you can approximate that.
It surely was a different way of working than today when everything is gauged on sharpness. Today is a time when new photographers look at work by Henri Cartier Bresson and say, “but everything isn’t sharp.” It doesn’t matter. As a wise old professor used to say, “sometimes your best picture isn’t your sharpest one.” HCB is a touchstone for every working street, documentary and journalistic photographer.
I think that’s why a lot of very experienced photographers are moving back towards something more artistic after working on making pictures that are tack sharp for over a decade. We want the pictures to hit you on an emotional level, not a technical one. Sheesh, we own cameras that we can control in any way possible. Why limit ourselves to technical perfection? With a smart phone anybody can do that.
For me, this picture might be as good or better than anything I’ve produced in almost 20 years of Mardi Gras pictures. It captures the energy of a big parade. You feel the controlled chaos. And yet, you know where you are. St. Charles Avenue. The never moving street sign says that.