My recent post on “the short game” gave me the joy of positive feed-back. Thank you all so much! This suggested that more on the same subject might be of interest to you. Here are 4 take-aways from being a short-gamer
Be it in intellectual or professional matters, it is accepted thinking that “thinking broadly” is of a higher essence than concentrating on details and dealing with minutiae. Yet there are some instances where “small is beautiful”. This mention of Schumacher is relevant, because he insists on the importance of people, and the human scale. That is a rather good description of what I am naming “the short game”. It is very much photography as a human endeavor (as opposed to a technical skill or prowess), and of human-sized subjects, as opposed to grand or minute ones.
Besides, the dominant thinking of our time attempts to comprehend and explain the whole by its parts (think particles to explain the universe, or DNA to explain the human body). So I should not run into (too much) opposition when positing that it is possible to tell a story that matters out of just small bits and pieces.
2. The short game, a style but not a style, a how but not a how
I touched on it in my original post. The short game as I see it does not deliver pictures that have a common thread, a common look, the way the work of a great photographer plays out. It has the potential to be infinitely varied, and, as such limits the risk of falling into a systematic, formulaic process. To some, this would be a bane, to me it is bliss. Sure, a given style lets one create images with minimal risk of not achieving an expected result, it being the image itself and/or how an audience will receive it. So, for no-stylers like me, personal gratification is key to my inspiration. If others like my images, fine. Any recognition beyond that, is gravy on the cake (or some such concept :-).
In that sense, the short game is not subject-based, or a “what”, the way sports, portrait, macro, landscape can be. It is also not photographer-based, or a “how”, the way images that are endowed with a given look or style are. So then, what is the short game? Is it just that some quasi-magical feature graces images shot at short range?
The key word for the short game is being close to one’s subject. Close in distance means neither subject nor ‘tog can hide, or remain at a safe distance. No amount of cosmetics can be applied to change the reality. No amount of greatness or vastness can mask the small imperfections. Furthermore, the more minor the subject, the greater the storytelling…. Here, I hear some of you shout: “minimalism!”, which the short game is not; because minimalism is a school of photoraphy, with rules, whereas the short game is not. In fact, if anything, the short game means intimacy with your subject. Telling its untold story. Giving it its 30 seconds of exposure…
3. The relevance of the unsaid
When one shoots a large subject at a distance, everything tends to be in focus. When shooting short game, or rather, close game, the opposite is true. The shorter the distance, the shallower the depth of field. Unless one shoots a planar subject, which, should we do nothing but, could rapidly become as boring as watching stones grow, this means a large portion of the image will be out of focus. Thus, if the subject itself is not of glowing importance, unlike a portrait before a monochrome backdrop, a typical short game image raises questions in the very opposite way that a major subject does not. Thus, to a large degree, the short game is a specific type of storytelling. not the photographer’s story, but the viewer’s…
What is left unsaid, unfocused, unspecified can easily be the majority of the image. Because the range is short, there is no context to the image. Because the subject can be unremarkable, there is no supplied “why” Why this leaf, this rope knot, this bicycle bell? Because the photography itself does not supply the answer, the viewer fills in the blanks, in the way that one puts meaning on Rohrschach ink blots…
4. Why is the short game my photographic home ?
Since writing my first post on this topic, itself triggered by an experience of Pascal-induced satori in the form of a realisation -or was it a revelation?- I have been shooting both short-game subjects and longer-game, mainly thanks to scrumptious morning outings with my friend Dallas. I cannot say that my short game images are any “better” than the others, but they are much more satisfying. They are the ones that bring a smile to my face. Sure, a very nice landscape image from a beautiful dawn in the park of a great chateau is satisfying, very satisfying even. But it leaves the world just the same as it was before I took the shot. I feel no contribution whatsoever, except maybe as a pure technical exercise, done many times before me, and no doubt also after me. Aesthetic beauty for sure, but not much meaning. It feels like a lesser Chianti. Impressive and warm to the palate, but no complexity or staying power.
But my short images, they might be irrelevant, or quirky, or both, but they resonate. I come back to them, I want to print them. They are home.
PS: that I find my home in the short game does not mean I find this type of photography superior to others. And I encourage every one to seek one’s own home, whichever it may be. Believe me, the reward of knowing one’s personal space are vast and deligthful.
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