Looking at Pictures

Looking at Pictures

When I first thought of selecting a few images from a photographer whose work I admired I thought it would be easy. It isn't. I don't really believe in writing about photographs because good photographs speak for themselves. We shouldn't need someone to "explain" them to us.

I find that so many photographs these days, and there are so many to look at, that are merely derivatives of other photos. Images created to a style. Images that look like so many other images I have seen on any given day. How can that be avoided with the popularity of picture taking and devices to do it with. When I find some that move me, I want to share them in hopes that others will appreciate them as well.

When I first opened my second Flickr account, for street photography only, Piotr's photography immediately caught my eye. Not only does it posess a technical virtuosity, there is an oblique way of looking at the world that I appreciate. Couple that with his often-supplied Youtube video links that accompany most postings, we get a picture of a person who may be slightly twisted and has a wonderful sense of humor. That knowledge gives me a different way of seeing his work and humor abounds in it. While I don't know if he even considers himself a "street photographer" he is among the best. He posesses that unusual skill of making an ordinary scene look extraordinary. Something all of us street photographers strive for. There is a certain "look" to his B&W work that seems deeply rooted in film photography...long tonal scale with rich blacks and clean whites.

Tomorrow is Another Day
tomorrow is another day

A well dressed big brother looks on as the crowd marches forward in this Orwellian fantasy, beckoning all to join the program and drive a shiny new automobile. A lone dog stays back, unsure of the path forward. Perhaps there is a connection between the gaze of the man in the billboard and the daschund that the pedestrians are unaware of.

This beautifully executed photograph succeeds visually and offers much powerful symbolism. The visual weight of the factory windows balances the well-lit poster. A speeding train adds urgency to the scene as do blurred legs of the pedestrians. Our eye keeps flipping between the man and the dog creating rhythm. A good example of how a tiny element can have as much importance as a large element.

Night photography can produce amazing images but it can be extremely difficult to do well. While a tripod offers control it also is limiting, especially in public places. Balancing the need for a shutter speed that will not produce excessive subject blur (unless that is the desired effect) against high ISO noise can be challenging. Holding detail in bright areas wthout losing shadow detail requires considerable skill. ISO 1600, f4.0 @ 1/13.
A memorable pictorial of society as it exists today.

Two Perspectives
two perspectives

It is not a given that interesting subjects make interesting photos. Take the challenge of photographing an event such as a parade for example. Creating compelling images that go beyond photographs of the costumes and floats is not easy. It would have been tempting and all too easy to photograph this subject based on a need to show his face. By seeing this quite odd scene from the back, we have no idea what the man is doing, or why the sea of vinyl covers the street of the city, while passerbys, except the photographer shootng from the "wrong" side, pay no attention at all. It brings to mind the scene in Fellini's "Casanova" where Donald Sutherland (as Casanova) rows across a sea of billowing black vinyl in the dark of night.
Here, the use of a wide angle lens creates a strong vanishing point drawing us into this strange world. The old world setting makes an even starker contrast with the man and his vinyl. We can only wonder if the bulges in the fabric are unfortunate pedestrians or animals who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Piotr wrtes about the image...
"It was Saturday 10 April 2010 - a plane with President of Poland was flying in to celebrate the anniversary of the Katyn massacre in Russia. On the street there was to be a performance. Artists with the event machine sewed on a large black cloth, not knowing at that point we had lost President. Plane with the president on board crashed and everyone died."

Transformation of Tradition
transformation of tradition

I suppose that for some viewers this is a perfectly ordinary scene. Or maybe I don't get out enough, because have never witnessed anything like this before. Semana Santa has rich tradition throughout countries in Europe and South America and that week is one of the most important in all of Catholicism. Here in the US, particularly in the south, men in robes and pointed white masks carryng crosses do not carry a positive message.

Unlike "Two Perspectives" whose strength was the ambiguity created by the point of view from behind the subject, "Transformaton of Tradition" is powerful, almost scary, because of the head-on confrontation of these all-too-serious looking masked men. We feel as if we are about to be overtaken by the procession. Once again artificial lighting adds a theatrical quality to a scene that would have appeared quite ordinary in daylight. The empty street, which is shown to be unusually devoid of bystanders, offers that same cold disinterest as in the previous image, in what is a pageant event. Endless depth of field helps to sell the theatrical reality. Put into context, and if we view the image large, we see Christ atop a float at the rear of the procession, arm held aloft as if waving to a crowd of fans, or is that a can of soft drink he is holding?

Piotr's large sense of humor is once again evidenced by his customary Youtube selection.


There are some photographs that are so timeless that the seem to embody the spirit of photograpy itself. They speak to all times back to the beginnng of the medium. While they may not break new ground, they perfect on tradition. This beautful image is one of those classics. While not "edgy", it delights and satisfies as our eye moves across the frame. The dark door is centered but the composition is not. A man provides balance as he glides across the frame, robes flowing. The whole scene is bathed in light that caresses the architectural elements and defines them in 3D detail. Except for the precision with which the mage was executed, this high-key tour de force could be a platinum print from the mid twentieth century. The photo was made around the time of the recent revolution in Hurghada, Egypt.

Piotr lives in Wroclaw, Poland, Lower Silesia region and is in his forties. In previous conversation he had told me that he generally shoots straight to grayscale jpeg and processes in a Polish equivalent of SilverEFX Pro. He uses a Canon EOS 550D usually mounted with a wide angle lens. See more of Piotr's work here.

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