The photographic impulse

Just what happens in a photographer’s head when they see their subject in front of them? I can’t answer for others but here are a few of the things that went through my mind when I was out cycling through the Hertfordshire countryside last Sunday.

My first thought as I cycled up what a few moments before had been an empty country lane was, “My goodness; what an awful lot traffic has appeared!”

The verges were lined with parked cars and more vehicles were coming in each direction. For a moment I thought something terrible had happened; a car crash that had closed the lane perhaps? Then I looked over to my left across a hedgerow.

As far as I can see was a field of red bobbing poppies. And amongst the poppies were a lot of people. Some of them were just strolling but there were quite a few clearly there for the purpose of photographing the scene so I felt I had to join in.

A field full of poppies screams to be photographed especially on a day such as that with blue skies and fluffy white clouds but how to approach it? At first I thought I would focus on what had first attracted me to the scene; the people.  But then I thought it would be great to get some pictures of the poppies themselves. After all it is not everyday you come upon such a magnificent scene.

It is at moments like these that the photographic impulse kicks in.  Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of the “decisive moment” but there can also be an indecisive moment when you are so overwhelmed with your subject matter that you cannot seem to make a decision when to fire the shutter. I know how I want to make a photograph that sums up this place and moment but what does it look like?

I have lately been reading “Towards a philosphy of photography” by Vilem Flusser and one of the things that has struck me was his description of a photographer as a stalker hunting his or her prey: That’s what I felt like as I roamed along the edge of the field, looking this way and that, sometimes dropping down low and occasionally looking through the viewfinder to see if the potential photograph matched up with what I could see unmediated by the lens.

I took one or two wide view shots of the entire field then focussed on an individual poppies either against the sky or from above isolated in the midst of the turned soil. In the end the photograph here was taken as I was about to leave and I observed a small group crossing the middle of the field.

For me it seems to sum up what I saw and felt in that field on that morning.

Later I cycled on to a nearby church to explore. It stood down a short side road off the lane. At that moment in common with other places of worship it was still locked but I was happy to explore the outside and to add to my collection of photographs of the quiet corners of churchyards.

For a second time the photographic impulse came over me but this time it was for a slightly different reason. The sun was shining and I could hear a gentle breeze and the bird song in the trees above my head. This was the furthest I would ride today and at some point I would have to head home but for the moment that could wait.

Sometimes I feel like I would like to keep on photographing, to not stop. I first started taking photographs when I was in my early twenties and I can remember at the time that I felt that there was nothing else I wanted to do. Being a photographer defined me. With everything, of course, we move on and the thing that seemed so important can fade into insignificance as other priorities take its place. So it was with photography for me until recently.

Now I find myself again wanting to hold the camera and to wait for the right moment when time and space is aligned within the viewfinder. I think it is that time and space, that sense of moment that I am trying to capture. In the churchyard before I got backon the bike I scribbled a few thoughts, making a note of the time (ten to twelve). It’s a habit of mine from when I used to write a diary (all long vanished) and would record the actual instant of writing; my surroundings and the time.  It is as if I am trying to capture or stay in that moment forever. Is that what I am trying to do when I take photographs?

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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