Monday, May 4, 2009
. . . but it's blurry!
Untitled, Oakland, October 1997.
Conventional wisdom would tell us that in order for a picture to be good, it has to be as sharp as a tack. In Internet forums, photo enthusiasts split hairs over sharpness and how much noise is acceptable in a picture. The desirability of digital cameras rises and falls by how noisy they get at high ISOs. In the face of all this obsession with crystal clarity, whither the blurry shot? The trash bin?
Hello. My name is Eman and I like blurry pictures.
Pictures come out blurry for many reasons: the thing itself moves too fast, the photographer moves too slow, not enough light, too much light, the camera shakes, the eager hand shakes, the lens can be better. In short, shooting conditions are not ideal. But unless you're in a studio or (God forbid) shoot with a flash, street conditions cannot always be ideal.
Perhaps a better gauge of a good picture is its power for storytelling, whether the stories are intended or not. In this context, blurriness to me would suggest that the thing itself is not a still life; that it moves and breathes, that the moment captured will be followed by another moment and yet another one.
Czech photographer Antonin Kratochvil is a Magnum correspondent who occasionally shoots celebrity portraits for magazines. Unlike other celebrity photographers who work with an army of assistants and an armada of gear, Kratochvil shoots his portraits in the same way that he would cover a war -- alone, with a hand-held camera, and with natural light. His blurry portrait of Rod Steiger (below) may not be flattering, but its dynamism and mask-like countenance reveal more of Steiger's qualities as an actor than any technically perfect shot.
The faces in the pictures by Miguel Rio Branco and Flor Garduño below can barely be gleaned from the blurriness that results from shooting under low light. This "flaw" renders the subjects anonymous, but it also imbues them with universality, a metaphorical significance that would be absent otherwise.
The unintentional blur in Raymond Depardon's portrait of his mother becomes the central focus of the picture itself, transforming the subject into a spectral image that intimates suggestions of memory and mortality.
Before trashing your next blurry picture, look at it again; it may possess qualities that make it worth keeping. When it comes to "interestingness," a little blur can be your friend.
Antonin Kratochvil, Rod Steiger, Prague, 1998.
Antonin Kratochvil, George Clooney.
Miguel Rio Branco, El Cabrero, Sevilla, 1993.
Miguel Rio Branco, Coconuts to Be, Cartagena, 1990.
Flor Garduño, Santiago, Temalacatzingo, Mexico, 1987.
Flor Garduño, Yatiri, Isla del Sol, Bolivia, 1991.
Raymond Depardon, During the four-minute exposure my mother moved slightly, 1984.