Friday, May 04, 2012

The heart behind the picture

Tonight I attended my first ever photography talk, sponsored by Canon, featuring adventure photographer Tyler Stableford. It was an interesting 2 hours long of distraction from daily life.

There are 3 types of speakers in my experience of attending talks. The worst are those who do the peacock dance, it's all me me me, see how good I am. Sure they can put up a good show, but that is all there is, a show. In the middle is the average and technically competent, probably good for technical knowledge, but can be painfully dull at times. The best will share their knowledge, philosophy and experience in a clear sincere manner. Whether you agree with the speaker's point of view or not, you will feel the need to think deeply and develop your own path of thought.

Mr Stableford is a photographer who thrives in extreme locations, his showcase of work takes him from the depths of the earth to mountain tops. Yet the whole lecture wasn't about the extreme settings, it was all about the telling the story of the subject in their natural environment. Of course there were the obligatory parts about equipment (being sponsored of course he mentioned plenty about that) and techniques, but what stuck in my mind was about connecting to the subject with your heart. In fact one of the question asked of him was, which of his techniques or principles can be applied where the subject was non human.  His opinion was, no matter what subject, the story behind the subject and heart of the photographer were key. In fact a photograph was also a  reflection of the photographer as much as the subject matter. It is how we see the subject that should also be present to the viewer.

When asked about his greatest achievement, he was genuinely stumped as he had not thought about it. He didn't feel it should be about the ego, that a photograph should define what he is. To paraphrase (I have an atrocious memory), it was about finding the joy in the process of the project. I think what helps is that he connects well to his subjects who range from almost nameless miners toiling away deep underground to double amputee war veteran Heath Calhoun who found a purpose in life doing competitive skiing. That connection is their quiet perseverance to overcoming odds.

Another answer that Mr Stableford gave stuck in my mind. A audience member asked, what could someone in Singapore, being devoid of majestic mountains vistas, draw inspiration from. He quickly described our ports with the huge container cranes as one of the areas that he would like to explore. It wasn't simply the imagery of huge machines, but the story of the men operating the cranes that draw him in.

It is always the story that can make the difference between a technically perfect picture and a masterpiece. Something I have only learnt lately.

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