The (super)Powers of Still Photography

There has been an argument coming up in the last couple of years about whether photography will still be alive and kicking for much longer. Video will do away with all that, much like it killed the radio star. What with HDDSLRs and people flocking to videography, it is a valid question.

Why say it in a single frame when you can say it in 24 frames/second?

I wanted to take a moment to talk about THE biggest advantage of using still photography, and how you might want to leverage those things that make it special. After all, the medium is the message.

 

It’s abstract. Not as in it’s a macro-photograph-can’t-quite-tell-what-it-is kind of abstract, but rather, photography by its very nature is abstracted from reality by it being a sliver of a moment. A fraction of a second in time. So why is that important and what can we do with it? Why is less more?

Here is how I see  it: whether there’s motion blur, or everything is crisply frozen, the photo can speak to the audience with as much as it doesn’t show, as what it does. With video the expectation is more that we will be shown everything, because the technology allows it. If we’re not, then some people might feel the creators are being deliberately coy or mysterious for effect; however, photography does this naturally. We’re expected to piece together our own associations and speculations. You can imagine that a photograph is like a permanently paused video, and the only way to press play is for the audience to actively do so… within their own minds.

To recap: Video makes the audience passive – something is shown to you/said to you | Photography makes the audience active (if it’s a good photograph) – Surrounding emotions/visions/memories are brought to the surface of your mind in order to complete the photo.

Whether it’s for advertising, documentary, wedding, or other kinds of photography, I think you can see what a great opportunity it is to give over some control to the viewer so that it instantly becomes a personalized message.

The consumer is constantly being bombarded by stimuli, especially video and audio, all the time. Still images can be arresting and actually make us pause for once.

You can imagine that a photograph is like a permanently paused video, and the only way to press play is for the audience to actively do so… within their own minds.

 

This following photo is one of my favourites that we took last year. It was taken at the historic Fort Edmonton Park shortly after we photographed Cesar, a woodworker and painter, for our Everything Edmonton project. We cajoled one of our former classmates and volunteer at the park, Jean, into this candid moment (does it still count as completely candid then?)

Jean at Fort Edmonton Park

Jean at Fort Edmonton Park

 

cesar-portrait-fort-edmonton-park-related-post

What I love is how easily I can play out a made-up story in my mind. We were there after all – we know that the carousel wasn’t actually running and that there were 4 or 5 people standing around as we snapped away doing our best to make Jean laugh like she was having the time of her life. But I still can always piece together some very strong imaginary moments that take place around this fraction of a second.

It’s the end of hot summer afternoon and everyone has left for the day… except for the operator of the carousel, who gets to have free run of the place in all its nostalgic dreaminess.

Or here’s another option – personally, I have been very influenced by conceptual imagery of the cliche commercial variety, so I might even consider some other scenario where her granddaughter is standing nearby cheering her on, the classic role-reversal funny moment. It’s unlikely that you and I would both visualize the same thing because it is so strongly influenced by our memories and pre-conceived notions.

The point is, the image causes me to then think about my own grandparents and their youthfulness. Also that time I rode a carousel in the Chinook Mall and thought “wow, all malls should have carousels – why don’t the mall people understand this??” My mind goes to those places because I’m actively engaged in using my personal experiences to paint a picture from the limited information I have. It’s a little more nuanced than simply being reminded of something. The emotions I experience from the photo are that much stronger because of that.

Let the audience help you tell the story with your photography.

 

So, what makes you stop and pause in the fast-paced world of interwebs and mobile-computi-phones? Comment below and we’ll give you a (metaphorical) gold star!