#1134. In Defense of Grabbing

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Aug 23

To me, the best photograph is unexpected. But a lot in our hobby, from carefully planned workshops, to the very existence of tripods, to photo-journalism, to competition rules, to studios … says otherwise.


It all started with an exquisite piece of writing by Thorsten von Overgaard sent to me by Philippe, which begins with a more eloquent description of the benefits of meandering pedibus with camera in hand, than I can ever hope to pencil down. All illustrated with the talented man’s usual style of photographs, an unhealthy proportion of which belong on gallery walls. Very sweet read.

’til the rip, that is.

Listen to Tavener’s Protecting Veil for an auditory depiction of it. Or imagine your cat jumping on your turntable after 15 minutes of smooth Jazz, as you nod off into bliss, if that’s a better way of conveying the feeling.


Midway through the newsletter, you see, the elated master proceeds to describe how, upon coming to a visually stimulating road junction, he waited for an aptly elegant lady to enter the frame and complete this ultimately parisian scene. None did, though a lovely little (British) car soon offered a very agreeable second best, to allow the craftsman to click and complete his vision-crafting work.

Et tu, Thorsten? Waiting for a clichΓ© to materialize?

I stopped reading, obviously, and headed to the kitchen to pick up a gallon of cookie-dow ice cream in hello kitty pajamas and nurture my sorrow, chickflix style.


You see, my photographic Patron Saint is Serendipity. I don’t believe in fulfilling some preconceived vision. Let alone wait for it.

There’s enough preconception circling my life to fill books: all muslims are terrorists. The French wear berets to buy their morning baguette. Policitians are evil (well, OK, maybe just this one … πŸ˜‰ ) Boomers killed the planet (best served on Facebook, an ad-sell dinosaur thriving on misinformation, gobbling up more fuel than some countries, brought to life by a 30 year old and held together by post-teens in hoodies) Higher framerates rule. The golden hour on blurred water. Life is that it is.

So, when my eye scans the EVF and my finger inches closer to the trigger, I strive to leave preconceptions well alone.


And it’s impossible, obviously. Every attempt is a miserable failure. Why include garbage in photographs of graffiti, for instance? Simply because I find they add context, texture and depth to the image whereas a tighter crop on the artwork itself would merely be documentary. The mental association is purely in my mind (although the physical juxtaposition was all very real) All we can hope to achieve in interesting photography is place a bit of ourselves in the photographs we put out there and share with the world. That bit of ourselves, of course, is largely made up of preconceptions.

So it’s a Catch-22.

In order to be creative and free of influence, we have to rely purely on our instincts, which are nurtured over time by successive layers of … mental associations and preconceptions. That bites, don’t it? πŸ˜‰


So I owe the great photographer an apology. One man’s inspiration is the other’s clichΓ©. Motivation for pressing the shutter is deeply personal. Whether we set out to find the unexpected or to recreate the iconic doesn’t matter so long as the result pleases others and inspires them to get our there and shoot as well.

In repentance for being judgmental and imagining that creativity could be totally free of associations, my penance has been to present the photographs in this post in pairs, each representing mental associations. Of colour, of idea, of likeness, of vibe …

The first step to recovery is acceptance, right? πŸ˜‰


But I will say this: mental associations seem to erode through repetition.

After a long day of walking and photographing based on my mental-associations-fueled-instinct, I find myself more tired and less able to “find” subjects. Instead of those, more abstract and weird scenes appeal to me, such as the one above. It’s as if one layer of the brain no longer has anything to say and goes for a kip while another, less audible and less understandable one, is reluctantly brought to the helm. The photographs it produces are weird to the point that someone who doesn’t know me might wonder whether I’m just starting out and a bit slow-witted πŸ˜‰ And I imagine those photographs only really appeal to me, but that’s good enough to make them, right?

And maybe that reconciles the two approaches? Maybe one follows the other. More interestingly, maybe each feeds the other, the weird personal stuff bleeding personality into the more iconic and the exhaustion of the iconic freeing the more deeply personal? Maybe, ultimately, the two can function simultaneously, hand in hand?

Speaking of which: where are your photographs? Take a look at the homepage, and you’ll notice half the posts are mine. This is no good. It breeds a monoculture. It forces me to make more photographs and presents the risks of me actually becoming good at it some day. Imagine how unsufferable that could make me.

So, c’mon πŸ™‚ I’m sure you have photographs to show others. Let’s break up the gloom, the once-again rising frontiers and the risk of me writing more silly things on the web. Send in your work, recent or not, and let’s get talking.


In all studies of happiness, the feeling of belonging and community kick the arse of work, money and all the other stuff getting in the way of our true needs, big time. Make us all happy, yerself included, share a post or three πŸ™‚


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I could entertain myself for hours, with this one.

    “Motivation for pressing the shutter is deeply personal. ” In my case, certainly. I’ve always been my own person – well, starting as of the age of 8 – before that, I guess I was just someone else’s kid, but that’s when I decided to take over.

    The goal posts at either end of the field are always “other people’s goals” – not mine. The thing that keeps kicking me back into centre field is that I detest “opinions”. So the instant they surface, I’m “outa here”, quick smart. Doing my own thing. And to hell with “opinions”. They’re just a communist plot, to block out my vision of the universe. And it’s MY vision that I want to record on film. “Deeply”? PURELY “personal”. After all, I take my photos and create my images for MY pleasure.

    Way way way WAY back, I found myself in possession of a photography book on a topic I’d never previously ever heard of – “Photo Composition”. If it had been titled “The Rules of Photo Composition”, I would probably never have picked it up. While all roads lead to Rome, short cuts like following “rules” have always been outside my creative compass. “Doing your own thing” might mean taking a longer path to GET to Rome, but the stroll gives more time to think for yourself. And anyway, letting someone else do “your” thinking isn’t ever going to make sense, really, is it?

    So while everyone else on a group shoot is “over there”, doing what the group leader suggests, I would always be somewhere else, doing something they weren’t. As for rules . . . well, rules and I were uncomfortable bedfellows long before I became a teenager, which is a VERY long time ago! Longer than most people have been alive!

    Grabbing into the “bag” again, for another topic. “. . . nurtured over time by successive layers of … mental associations and preconceptions . . .” Maybe – but just when you might think “that’s it”, Garfield strikes again! – “expect the unexpected!” And you find yourself photographing something completely outside the frame. Nothing to do with “associations”, mental or otherwise. Nothing to do with “preconceptions”! Sucked in, by some transcendental vortex, instead. Spontaneously. Like walking down the street to photograph the Eiffel Tower, and suddenly being confronted by Banksy, painting a 2-storey high mural on the wall of the Palais de Chaillot – who could resist pressing the button, and how could you possibly plan & set up, for that?

    PAUSE the cine: I LOVE your first two photos, Pascal – I’m as jealous as hell. Thanks BTW for the re-appearance of the statutory bicycle! LOL

    “My” images? As I pen this garbage, I keep realising this isn’t a communist plot at all – it’s a manipulative assault on me, as a dedicated introvert, purposefully trying to flush me out into the open. You keep sending me suggestions, many and varied, calculated to catch me off guard.

    Well FYI I now have access to the negatives of three of my favourite images from over half a century ago. And a top quality scanner, to enable me to transfer them to the computer. Over the years, you’ve seen some of my other garbage. If you want it that much, you must have some idea what you expect, so I might as well knuckle down and start cobbling something together.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, I don’t mean to be a pain in the arse πŸ˜‰ But I’ve seen your photographs and know how interesting they are. It’s just a shame not to share them. But introversion is something I know only too well, DS being largely a therapy. Sometimes I get hell for doing it. You should have read what people said after I had to retire the second Pixii post (and it wasn’t even my fault …) But it doesn’t matter. People like you and I do it for ourselves.

      Thanks for the kind words about the first pics. And, yes, that bike shot was made and posted with you in mind πŸ™‚

      Anyway, whatever you do, keep doing it πŸ™‚ Cheers

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hmm – never mind how, but while I was annotating your plea for us to unit together and assassinate your attempts to become a “great” photographer by drowning DS in contributions of our own, I found myself read DS 489 and DS 490. The trigger was the reference to the Otus 28.

    And splattered all over the place, a selection of images of “modern architecture” that DOES “tick the box”.

    Thanks for sharing those images, Pascal.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Jean-Pierre πŸ™‚ The Otus 28 may well be the lens I most enjoyed in my life. It’s probably a tie between that and the Distagon 1.4/35. It did inspire me a lot and it’s a real shame it won’t work on my current camera!

  • Dallas says:

    Pascal, photography is whatever floats your boat and being polite, I would say damm anyone who doesn’t like your images. BTW they are excellent, love the last one call me jealous. MMMM were have I heard that before?

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Pascal, We are definitely kindred spirits! What you call “grabbing” street scenes in urban areas is precisely what I call “rambling” in the woods. Nothing pre-determined as to result, though lots of pre-conditioning by habit, training and interest. Of course you have a better eye than I, but otherwise I groove to your beat (to mix my metaphors and use some clearly dated language). And I love your images, especially those very interesting juxtapositions (e.g. of graffiti and garbage, or MacBurger and MacModern, or the penultimate one that appeals while it repels). I also wish I could match your prose (if not your poetry).

    Your call to produce posts will go heeded in these quarters: I’m working on one on ferns, and then one on bark with the aforementioned M. Guaron. I’ve been slowed down with an injury I sustained while committing photography: lost my balance and fell hard on some uneven river rocks, bruised ribs and dislocated my right pinky. My minder insists that this will not happen again. ;-). Lad

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Lad, yes, rambling and grabbing are indeed very similar in nature πŸ™‚ Particularly as my grabbing is most often supported by lots of walking, which puts me in a receptive state of mind (as opposed to sitting down, when thousands of thoughts invide my consciousness: the shopping list, the noisy neighbour, the late report, lying unfinished in a Mac window …) I definitely do not have a better eye than you. I do shy away from difficult subjects such as yours, however πŸ˜‰ Thank you for the kind words, I really look forward to your next illuminations πŸ™‚

  • philberphoto says:

    Pascal, as we would say in French, there is grabbing and there is grabbing. Grabbing can be grabbing “as is”, almost passively save for the “being there and clicking”. Or it can be availing oneself of what is there as a miner avails himself of tons of earth to extract grams of gold…. Abfab images, BTW. Congrats!

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