Friday, July 22, 2011

The Unexpected Moment

Unposed Office Chair, Victoria Avenue
(click on image to view larger)

I was out this evening to hear Craig Semetko give a talk about his street photography at Lúz Gallery. The images I saw were compelling in their strong combination of geometric compositional elements as a context for people engaging in the many different actions that make us human.

Semetko approaches his street photography by constantly looking for characters with stories to tell through their actions. He talked about the contributions of design, information and emotion to making a strong image. Someone in the audience asked about how his experience of the moment transforms what might otherwise be an unremarkable snapshot into an image that pulls us in, that becomes in some way magical. Semetko shared that his strongest images are made when he is alone, and feeling lonely; this combination leads him to seek out connections to others through the making of images.

Much of street photography happens in split seconds, when a variety of human elements come together (the famous "decisive moment"). Beyond a certain element of luck, a lot depends on having a well developed eye and an instinctive sense of impending action while bringing together strong compositional elements. Semetko ascribed his own ability to do this from careful and long study of the work of the masters of street photography, particularly Henri Cartier Bresson. I found this idea really resonated with me; as I've written before an artist must go beyond knowing that they "like" or "dislike" an image. It's important to think more deeply and come to an understanding of why certain images are strong and others don't work well. In discussing his images, Semetko would point out the components that made for an effective composition, adding information on how the image developed from that point, and why the image shown succeeded for him when others he took before and after that moment did not. I learned a great deal from his presentation, even though I am not myself a street photographer. 

Craig was very open and sharing during his presentation. He had many wonderful stories to tell about his journey as a photographer and it sometimes seemed that he has lead a charmed life. He spoke about how big an influence Henri Cartier Bresson's work was for him. After making images for about six years, the first gallery show Craig was offered was a two person show - 25 of Cartier Bresson's images along with 25 of Semetko's. I think we all had goose bumps thinking about that.

As I was driving home, I came upon this scene which oddly went well with the evening. I have no idea why or how an office chair came to be in the middle of the road. But it was if I was being invited to at least tentatively dip a toe in the street photography waters. I think Craig Semetko must have arranged for this!

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