A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me…
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (1980)
Hello everyone, my name is Camilla and I am the creator behind Zelda was a writer, a blog dedicated to sharing the best of my creative passions.
Actually, we have met before: last summer I wrote IN MY SHOES, in which I invited you to follow me on a walk around my beloved home city of Milan.
This year, thanks to Manfrotto Imagine More, I can tell you all about my approach to photography, an activity that brings me happiness and a sense of fulfilment.
I’ll do it my way, without ever presuming to teach anyone anything: by sharing a few of the secrets with which I and my beloved Mrs Canon throw ourselves into the river of life and snap away like lunatics.
I decided to call this project ‘PUNCTUM’ in honour of Camera Lucida, a beautiful short book on photography, written by the French semiologist Roland Barthes (whom I spoke about here). Within this work, you can find a definition of PUNCTUM, which helps you to understand the reason why not all shots are the same.
Once you become aware of the magic of every photographic expression and of the perfect and unchangeable here and now, you will realise that taking a photograph involves a riot of contingencies, desires and coincidences, and you will experience the unsuppressable desire to try to spot as many PUNCTA as possible.
You must never forget: photography is an unsuspected form of witchcraft! Fundamentally a game of mechanics, it involves an infinite number of variables: from the feelings of the person looking through the lens, to those of the person being photographed, to the perception of the person who observes the final results. But that is not enough, there is much more to it than that: a feeling of time, the involvement of the light, the infinite weaving of vectors that cross through our space, an inescapable sense of being in the things around us and much, much more besides.
Precisely because of these reflections, I decided to meet up with six friends, in four different situations. I chose to do it during moments of total relaxation, to photograph their faces and tell you the story of what I see in them, trusting in the magical power of photography to provide the subtext, silent yet present.
So, in the past few weeks, I have photographed (in order of meeting):
2. Canio Salandra, better known as The Sputnik Guy, an artist with a sublime gaze full of meaning;
3. Riccardo Casiraghi and Stefano Paleari, the life and soul of Gnam Box, a gastronomic cultural project which places great importance on image;
4. Laura Anzani, actress and producer of undeniable charm, intense and dramatic, a friendship of endless laughter;
Each one of these people has produced SITUATIONS THAT ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER. What are they?
1. Complete trust: my friendship with Justine is so great, that taking pictures is a total breeze. Every time I meet up with her, I know that I will take home a memory card with at least one unforgettable PUNCTUM!
2. / 3. ‘First time’: I’d never taken pictures of Canio, Riccardo and Stefano and the fact that they are fantastic photographers didn’t exactly put me at ease. We decided to meet up all together (they are old friends) at Cascina Cuccagna, a natural paradise full of colour, right in the middle of the city. I confess that I was carrying a very heavy rucksack full of performance anxiety.
4. With someone who knows the job: Laura is an expert in expressivity. With her, creating situations of joy, wickedness or deep sadness is all too easy. This is one of the situations in which I love to imagine different scenarios and look for them in the lines in the face I see before me.
5. With someone who doesn’t like cameras: Clelia doesn’t like having her photo taken, which I totally understand, as I really don’t like having mine taken either. We decided to try a few shots because I feel that her life, filled with creative successes and vibrant inspiration, should be documented in some way. We’re just at the start, we’ll come back soon to create some new images.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH FOUR SUCH DIFFERENT SITUATIONS? Here are a few suggestions I learned on the job!
– In general, it’s always good to have a project in mind, an idea to guide your photography.
In my four situations, I wasn’t searching for abstract concepts or revolutionary artistic ideas, as much as situations that contributed to the success of the image. In Laura’s case, I knew that any location would have given me adequate shots; with Canio and Gnam Box, I preferred an informal situation, with some movement; with Justine, we took advantage of a work break in our general headquarters, in the attic awash with light; with Clelia, I treated myself to a stroll in the deserted streets of weekend Milan. Although it may have appeared to have been dictated by chance, there was always a choice made a priori, based on the study of the individual situations.
– It is essential to make the subject of your photograph feel at least as at ease as you would want to feel in the same situation.
When I have my subject there in front of me, I usually talk (actually, I talk all the time, but that’s another story): I give instructions on how to stand and where to look, I might even ask for a particular turn of the chin, but, in reality, I work better in the pauses, between one instruction and another.
The best shot is that which captures the instant when the subject relaxes his muscles and forgets that he is the focus (or victim, depending on how he sees it) of the attention of my lens.
– Always pay attention to everything surrounding the subject of the photograph, even when taking an extreme close-up.
I love using the background to help me because what I see in my camera lens is a picture full of life: the subject is part of a series of lines and frames. Call it rule of thirds or call it a feeling, it doesn’t really matter: for me, a subject cannot exist without passing through things of life. Whether it is air or the movement of particles: things that are intangible, but present.
– Study the characteristic features of the subject and photograph him many times before using the camera.
The observation is all in the photograph: characteristic facial features can become your best allies or can be dulled by angles, distance, extreme approaches. The face has an interesting geography, as does the body and even certain looks. Study the physical appearance of your subject, explore his inner being. If you don’t know him, meet up before the shoot, watch how he moves, work out what could put him at ease and what his qualities are: by doing this, you can take the hardest part of the job home with you to work on!
– Keep your eyes in training. Always.
Minor White said: “I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice”. You too should exercise your gaze. Through observing other photographers’ work, through films or figurative art. Wander without purpose, like a Baudelairean flâneur, breathe in the perfume of life and search for its frames.
There is a fabulous photograph of Orson Welles, of which I am very fond and which I have shared here, at the end of this post. Behind the author you can see an eye and I, first person singular, linked by an equals sign. Eye equals I. Let this become your first and most important axiom.
In my next post, we will talk about backgrounds and contexts.
Zelda was a writer