Sunday, 27 April 2008

Editing and horror films

This is going to be a confusing post. Stills from The Shining, general chitchat about editing photoessays and a review of The Orphanage. Sorry about that.

Last week I saw The Orphanage (El Orfanato). It's a ridiculously good Spanish horror film, that works in several subtle layers and has that classic buildup tension that good -and nowadays fairly rare- horror films have. Actually, there are not that many really frightening moments in the film, but they are sometimes so tightly knit together, and others they are so unexpected that they make a great film. On the background you have this strange arousal... all the time something is a bit wrong about the whole film but there you sit watching. Is probably these moments in which nothing scary really happens that makes the film stand out. If it was all the time bang bang, ghost here, ghost there, people dying, etc. it would have been crap. Instead, it's an extremely well paced and thought film. Exactly like editing pictures, at least for me.

With editing pictures... selecting and arranging a photoessay, I find that the best way of describing my modus operandi is some sort of horror film. You start by hinting that something is going to happen or something is slightly wrong or crooked about all this. It doesn't require a strong internal logic, just something ambiguous, worrying. Then you try to get into the stronger shots by building up tension to them. Some things that you want to cover with the images don't somehow work together (last edit I did managed to contain two portraits, I still don't know how I pulled that one), so somehow the sequence should lean in their direction without losing the main track. Once you get into the particular strong shot, you can sometimes follow with another very strong shot, a bit like those shocking aftershocks of horror films, but doing it too often creates too much of an expectation. It's all about guiding the viewer's state of mind through the images... to play with that theoretical observer that might look at the sequence, hopefully being absolutely naive by when they start.

Of course it's not all frights. The Orphanage contains that little bit of drama that reminds you that the characters are still human beings after all, that you could be one of them. It opens with a happy and long scene, that just makes you more worried on your seat, as you expect the awful to happen, but not. There the orphanage is, back in the fifties, probably, and all this kids that nobody really wants are playing in the garden, chasing each other. You barely need this in terms of the story itself, but it's setting the mood. It's like a backdrop that you get back to when you are viewing the rest of the story. Half way through the film there's a big pause. The whole story moves forward by six months and sort of resets. It had got to one of its peaks in terms of horror, the plot had advanced suddenly, your nerves don't take it much more. Then the pause comes and gently everything resets a bit. All the paranormal lightens and you get back into reality and into the characters. You sort of need this to take another good dose of horror.

A tight pace, a sequence of images without bumps, up and down, an "easy" ride for the viewer. Reaching the peaks and playing with expectations. Sudden but announced shocks every now and then. A coherent whole that goes around hitting very different images. Hide the repetitions, don't put them together... returning to some motives gives it a beat. Not too obvious either, just hinting to things that will come and reminding of things seen. Of course there are lots of exceptions, not all sequences are horror films, but I do love horror films. Damn.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Boredom, photographs, paintings, art

I remember when in primary I saw for the first time Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase...

We had just got out of impressionism, and hitting abstraction, cubism and futurism. On Duchamp's painting I stopped and said, damn, I see it! Well, it's not as if you couldn't see all the stuff, but most of it was fairly obscure (like music for musicians we do have art for artists, I'd say). But, hey, here you could stop for a moment and actually think that that is, in a sketchy way, what a person looks over time when they walk down a staircase. Everything superimposed. Seeing this so many years later took me to reading the wikipedia entry, and it has this interesting bit...

In the composition, Duchamp depicted motion by successive superimposed images, similar to stroboscopic motion photography. The painting shows elements of both the Cubist and Futurist styles. Duchamp also recognized the influence of the stop-motion photography of √Čtienne-Jules Marey.

Well, the influence of that was recognized looks like this:

- Man walking down an inclined plane

- Horse walking

- Pelican landing

That makes Duchamp look a lot easier actually. And it somehow brings me full circle to photography and Trenk Parke...

Monday, 14 April 2008

Boredom, paintings, art

Hah, plenty of people seem to be bored of conteporary photography out here. Not very surprised. People have always been bored of contemporary photography at least since the beginning of last century. I'm bored as well. Maybe it's time to bring in that old clash that photography shouldn't try to imitate paintings. Too much painterly stuff out there, when the interesting thing are all those images that you collect with a camera through a viewfinder and you wouldn't conceive on your own or through your eyes.

This reminds me. When I look at this Bruegel painting I can't help but to think...

... that the framing is sort of not perfect. There are chopped trees at both sides and even the people are in a slightly non-optimal position and they are slightly cropped also at the bottom. There are multitude of small scenes and actions going on, just like in daily life. I just guess that the framing and choice of the scene is for enhanced realism.

If we now compare with a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson depicting a similar snowy and populated scene...

... well, somehow the composition tries to imitate paintings and it's more clean than Bruegel's. Just because it being a photograph brings the realism that the painter tried to achieve? So painters imitated life, and photographers imitated painters? Aren't we missing something here?

Thursday, 10 April 2008


Got back from London. Didn't shoot even one roll of film, but now I have applied for being Finnish. At the embassy they gave me back a receipt and 20 pence. I'll keep them dearly. Also got drunk twice. They stopped serving me at a pub somewhere close to Leicester Square. That annoyed me a bit. Met up with lots of the usual suspects of Londoner street photo, which is always a joyous event. Somebody stole a camera (if anybody sees a Yashica Lynx-1000 with an Olympus T-32 flash, it's mine). In overall, nothing too bad. Busy place. Oh, I also bought a book of Shomei Tomatsu. It drives me nuts. Good to know that he liked the work of Kerouac.

(All pics by Shomei Tomatsu)

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Bryan Formhals is not dead... he just smells funny... hah...

At some point I said that some mates were leaving flickr (where we met) and going on their own. Well, Bryan got into his stream of consciousness blogging with Photographs on the Brain, which I think is his daily ration of food for thought. Pretty good. Very much worth having the RSS feed sindicated, because the flow of short notes, links, and mostly, photographs can flood you in very short notice.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Trying colour...

I have very rarely shot colour and now I'm giving my first go ever at scanning it. It's a bit of a strange experience. I try to keep it small, so I only use the (damn) thing when I'm in Spain. During Easter I shot a bit here and there (Alicante, Valencia, Malaga, Fuengirola) and it was very very odd. I maybe don't really like it, because instead of just reacting to stuff and shooting away and running and dancing and looking at lines and things going on, I have to also take a look at what colour they have.

I mean, this is a pretty monochromatic shot at the end of the day... it has colour just because it's the thing it was shot with...

Instead, this is much more the thing you should be looking forwards to when using colour... something in which the elements, or at least some of them, are told apart because of the colour. In other words, in this shot colour is important:

I also found out that all that old portrait film I was shooting with happens to be pretty good for -surprisingly- portraits and natural light. Duh.

So what are those things you're messing with that you never dared to touch? I'm losing a bit my fear to colour but I'm not yet sure if I'm seeing it at all...

(All photos by me.)