The truth and the still

Parintins, Brasil 1993

The still photograph is not so still.  The photograph asks questions.  It suggests a story.  It presents an idea in a language without words.  It is even as it signifies. Video killed nothing, and the still photograph survives (even as the radio star carries on).  Unlike video, you can take the still photograph in.  You have a role in your experience of the photograph.  It speaks to you at a speed that you can handle, that doesn’t overwhelm, that invites your participation and imagination.  You can look into its nooks and crannies and seek out all it has to offer.  All this at your own pace, and for your own reasons.

Snow on Sterling Place, Brooklyn 2005

The still photograph is a water that runs deep.  If it seems to sit there, that’s its charm.  The still makes you active, because it’s impossible to just look.  Indeed, that’s the point, and all the while the still is not nearly inert.  It just moves differently, at a different pace, like a tree.

Detail of a rock on the beach, Long Island Sound, 2009

You fill the stillness with motion, the silence with voices.  You hear these people, feel the breeze come across the flowers, sympathize with a long face or smile with happy eyes.  Or you imagine the immediate suspension of all motion and noise and concentrate on only the image and the miracle of capturing time itself.

Intensity . . .Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 2009

Video?  Its harsh, grating noise, the motion too fast to keep up with – video steals your ability to think about what you’re seeing and replaces your mind with its own images.  The difference between the still photograph and video is the difference between democracy and dictatorship.

Fixing the sidewalk, Prospect Park Parade Grounds, Brooklyn 2009

Notes and Credits

On December 15, 2009, I had the opportunity to hear two award-winning photographers, Lynsey Addario and Damon Winter, discuss their work at the Museum of the City of New York.  After the panel discussion, one member of audience asked them if they were experimenting with video, given the prominence of video on the Web and current developments in social media and journalism.  Of course they were interested, but they were still committed to the still photograph.  That’s what got them aroused in the first place, and the still continues to drive them today.  Moderater Kathy Ryan, photo editor for the NYT Magazine, chimed in that photos are still much more popular than videos on the Magazine’s website, perhaps because the photos allow the viewer to control what they are seeing.  So that got me thinking . . .

Sidewalk fixed, December 2009

All the photos featured in this post were taken by the author.  Go back and double-click them to see a larger view.  Enjoy.  If you want to see some interesting and incredible photos by others more talented and adept with shutters than I, check out the work of some friends at T’INGS, Chloe, and the No Words Daily Pix on Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.

Astor Place, New York 2009


Filed under art, beauty, Brazil, freedom, ideas, journalism, life, media, Park Slope, philosophy, politics, truth

6 responses to “The truth and the still

  1. Sarah-Eva Carlson

    Beautiful entry. Makes me stop, look around, and consider the stillness here at this moment that will not be captured by a camera and will be lost forever if I do not notice it myself.

  2. kavita

    gorgeous pics john! i could look at these forever.

  3. Marc Guidry

    Yo, Bro, love the pics, especially the contrast of the Prospect Park sidewalk, sort of like seeing the nave of a Gothic Cathedral before and after repair in two different lightings. I do think still pictures can be just as manipulative as video–it depends on how they’re shot. Readers co-create any text. The still allows the viewer to linger over the meaning, though, in a way that video does not. Nice reflection.–Marc

  4. Sarah-Eva: much thanks. I hope all’s well with life and writing.

    Kavita: thanks! How are things in NC? I should be a better email or facebook correspondent, but thanks for noticing the pics.

    Marc: thanks — the cathedral effect is precisely what I sought. Of course photos are as manipulative as any form of communication, but I thought I’d be a little provocative and stand up for the older art form against the new video technology. And I do think that one problem of the internet is the presentation of so much “free” content that is fully formed and less and less about real participation in making the content. The private act of seeing a photograph and twisting it around in your mind is something that more fast-paced forms of content-based entertainment (including gaming) takes away from us, and it seems to me that without going all crumudgeonly on it that everything we gain in speed and immediacy involves a sacrifice of something self-conscious and agentic in our consumption of media. Or something like that.

  5. micehelle

    I tend to see my perspective of my past best described as a flipbook… a lot of still shots skillfully constructed to form a familiar movie in my mind. And in that, I get a great deal of comfort because I know I can stop at any time to pause on a memory with picture-perfect accuracy.

    I completely agree with you – and feel that pictures on celluloid enhance depth more so than anything digitally manipulated. But I’m old school that way, hahah…

    Sorry I’ve been remiss in visiting your blog, your stories paint beautiful pictures that I should visit more often. 🙂

    Paz, meu amigo!

  6. Hello ! What a thought provoking post ! I agree that the magic of such beautiful photos is that they provoke us to linger over all the hidden possibilities of the story behind them and the experience can be so full of wonder. Thank you for making me contemplate this art form a little more deeply than usual !

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