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Thursday, 28 February 2013


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Mike said

I even have a name for those aesthetically drab 'n' dispiriting but accurate and informative frames: "record shots."

I think you might be missing the subtleties that emerge from a collection of images, taken as a whole, by trying to judge them on their individual visual worthiness or impact.

As a (mostly) documentary wedding photographer I try very hard to make every photo the best it can be, but there's no doubt that there are some are simply better than others. Often less artistic photos are needed as conjunctions to tie the more picturesque parts of the day together.

Try as one may, there's only so much that can be done with photos of the bridal party walking down the aisle, but those photos are an important part of the larger context of the day's story.

I'm sure news photojournalism is even more difficult. I don't claim a pure documentary style, so I have a little more leeway than someone who is claiming to make a statement of fact or attempting to educate.

"I even have a name for those aesthetically drab 'n' dispiriting but accurate and informative frames: 'record shots.'"

I call mine "memos".

Increasingly I see what appear to be "memos" presented as loudly touted bodies of new works by "emerging artists". Perhaps we've entered the memo generation of photography?

As a amateur/obsessive/auteur/etc., a 'record shot' isn't just for recoding the fact, but the mood, the emotion of a place/event. So bending reality to make a picture that captures the perceived moment rather than the 'real' moment, well, cool. Journalists shouldn't - lord knows you try like whoa to find a moment where everything clicks, but while hanging off a railing supported by an extra camera strap or talking your way into a place where you shouldn't be are kosher, using your lens to create a lie, however benign, is right out. We use to fight about if cropping was ethical, much less fake cutlines and posed actors...

Some of my most treasured photos are "record" photos. These were taken when I was 9 years old with my Kodak Brownie "Holiday Flash" using 127 Verichrome Pan B&W film.
I'm in my 60's now and take, at times, outstanding photos using a DSLR, a variety of lenses and still having alot of fun with my lifelong hobby.
To make a long story short, there is a place for "record" shots alongside "art", commercial or journalistic photos.Which is more valuable may be in the eye of the photographer, for the pro, in the eye of the client.


Maybe you're "not trying to be a journalist" but I suspect the profession would be in much better shape today if more of those folks shared your outlook.

I remember reading Will Rogers in my early (and optimistic) 20's and thinking it sad that cynicism could evolve to such high art no matte the wit. Now at 50 I find it difficult not to throw my own cyclical wet blanket over most political commentary I read. sigh..

Seems that was what DHK was hinting at when he said that "all his photographs are dramatic." Few "record" shots with Mr. Pellegrin, is he just that good, or...

The Pellegrin photo seems to have been shot in a manner that suggests the situation (potentially dangerous)did not allow the photographer time to take a "good" photo, and so settled for a "record shot".

Now there is evidence that suggests that was
a deliberate part of the deception.


What, Fenton did move the cannon balls?

A "record Shot" is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. I'd wager that many a skilled record shot could pass for high art.

I've been calling them "memory shots", because that's what they do.
More so with every passing year.

It breaks down to the usual clash between form and content. I almost always decide form over content, but it is because I choose beauty and aesthetics to be king when we talk about photography. I usually like more photographs that are first about photography, and in second place about the subject of the photograph. But thats just me.

Mike, have you been eavesdropping on my inner monologue for the last three years?

I'm obsessed with assembling small portfolios* that reflect the world I live in. I take little bits and pieces of Arlington and then shoot them obsessively. Obsessively as in months or years at a stretch, two to seven nights a week, 3-4 hours at a crack. I go out in shirt-soaking August heat, 30mph winter gusts, and have been out in every major storm to hit my home in the last twenty years. I'll happily shoot the same scene five, ten, or twenty times until I get the shot I have in my head...and then I'll keep on shooting it, simply because I might wind up with something even better.

I'm a little OCD.

But while I'm very driven about taking pictures, what I really obsess over is selecting and sequencing images. In one case I spent more than a year sequencing a 12 image portfolio. And then I wound up trashcanning it and spent four hours a day for two or three months creating a new version.

What takes the most time and energy, and causes me the most angst, is balancing hook shots--images that demand exploration and encourage the viewer to keep clicking "next"--and document shots--what you call "record shots", that really just capture whatever was in front of the camera.

I aim to create a sense of place, a mood, and a belief that there is a coherent geography behind the portfolio...but if I can't balance hooks and documents, it will all fall apart. You need both to make it work. Or at least, I need both, and I choose to believe that everyone else does as well.

A big problem I've run into is that everyone has a different hook. I know this is universal, and you've talked about it yourself, but I'm still frustrated and disappointed when the images that I think are document shots wind up getting attention, and my hooks are ignored.

In fact, my all-time favorite hook photo from my _big_ project has only attracted one comment--from a friend I use as a sounding board and editor--who said, after some prodding, "You always get such nice browns in your photos." Yeeesh.

A document that people loved:

A hook that people ignored:

And my nice browns:

Document and Hook are from Four Mile:


Browns are from Time Served:


*"Photo essay" is a term I hate. No rational reason, it just makes me grind my teeth.

I think the "record shots" may often prove to be the most interesting when viewed 10 or 20 or more years down the line. The more "artistic" shots often obscure the mundane day-to-day "how we were" stuff that is often fascinating when sufficient time has passed.

Funny, my photo buddies and I have always called them "record shots" too, since the 1970s. Great minds?

I've often wondered whether some of these pictures will have a greater value in the historical record long after we're gone.

Shaw-Pellegrin is a local storm in a tea cup but a global hurricane.
If a respected magnum photojournalist can be so slap-happy with his shots it makes us reconsider the best of the past.
"Love that flooded yard but I'll give you 20Francs to see how far you can jump from that half submerged pallette."
"Great look big GI but don't look at me look at that tree 1000 yards behind me."
"General, you know the court will find him guilty. Why not just execute him now?"
Decisive moment or "I can't get the shot that I want so I'll get close enough that it makes no difference if you don't know"

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