#1099. The short game (part deux)

By philberphoto | Opinion

Mar 16

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

  1. The revenge of the narrow mind

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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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “to tell a story that matters out of just small bits and pieces” – “big trees out of little acorns grow”!

    “pictures that have a common thread, a common look” – are’t we exhorted to to create images that tell their own story? – rather than “comic strips” of photos that collectively tell a story? Of course it’s harder – more demanding – to achieve this target with a single image – but surely that’s a reason why we SHOULD try to do it?

    “being close to one’s subject” – this is an echo, really. So many times, when we started out, we realised that we’d tried to fit everything INTO the photo – when really, we should have been trying to keep most of it OUT of the frame, to get a good picture.

    Honing in on the subject – closing in on it – is fine tuning that process. Achieving a new, higher level, than many ‘togs will ever see in their life times. Because they still keep trying to include more than the “real picture” wants within the frame. With macro, especially, we start to see things we didn’t – see “better” – and suddenly images like yours bound out of the page! Fill your mind with things we probably never noticed before, standing further back.

    (BTW – at the moment, you have the 2021 prize for “best bicycle photo of the year”! Forgot to mention it up above.)

    When I go down this path I always find that I need to find a “theme” of some sort. I don’t know why – I suspect I feel the need for some aid to sorting and cataloguing the photos. Perhaps I do try for the “comic strip” approach after all. Hmm. Now I have to do a lot more thinking, and sort myself out.

    In the meantime, thanks for sharing your images and your thoughts.

  • Frank Field says:

    Philippe — Wonderful images, each of them. I had missed your earlier post and am glad to have found the link. Your work is a reminder that there are so many potential images available to us in our daily lives and daily circuit. Images available to us but only if we are receptive and ready to respond. Thanks so much for sharing. Frank

  • Jack says:

    Delightful. Yes.

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Philippe, These are images worth returning to, and I can only gauge the satisfaction they bring to you by my own enjoyment, which is considerable! I would love to have your eye. My own photos are mostly of flora and fungi in the nearby woods, and I wonder how much you wander in similar natural environments, such as the leaf represents, as well as the city streets you portray so well. Lad

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Yes! I’m with you on preferring the short game – close up images of one interesting subject – yum! It’s like creating fascinating little portraits. You, my friend, are the master of finding these tiny treasures – well done!

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