Friday, 6 July 2007

Shooting the air

Yesterday we learnt that Salzburg will not host the Winter Olympic Games in 2014. It has been the third time in a row that Salzburg is candidate city (2006, 2010 and now 2014), and it has never been elected.

I read the newspaper (Salzburger Nachrichten, "Salzburg News") every morning in the bus on my way to the office. I liked its cover picture yesterday. The Austrian chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, hugs the mayor of Salzburg, Heinz Schaden, just after learning that the Olympic dream is over after the first voting. Schaden's face doesn't need any extra explanation, you don't have to read the headline to understand what happened. I had the photo in mind as I was reading the news, and maybe because of some naturally human empathy, I felt sorry about the poor man.

It is one of those pictures about catching the moment, being there, guessing what's about to happen, with the framing chosen, the light measured, the right white balance set... It's a pity that I haven't been able to find an online version of the picture (so far). But I will show you a couple flying coffeepots in exchange... :)

I am amazed at this ability that pictures have to evoke something. Because the feelings are there, within the four edges of the picture. And you feel them, but you don't really know how. Pictures are a language, same thing as those spoken or written, but we don't learn to "read" images at school. We can interpret them, but we do it in an unconscious way, almost visceral. And that's precisely what makes images so mighty and at the same time so dangerous as a way to communicate.

As I started being a hobby photographer I felt myself lost quite often. Sometimes, out of luck and not out of skills, I made a photograph that I liked very much. But I wasn't able to say why this one, or what was wrong with the others. In fact it still happens to me. But photography is a language, and as all languages, possesses some basic rules that let us interpret them, and provide us with the ability to make others understand what we meant.

One of these basic rules is that even though it is transparent, it is very important to photograph the air. When we look at a picture, we put ourselves in the viewpoint of the camera. But a camera is not like our eyes. We see a lot more, our field of view is wider, with high resolution in the middle that decays to the outside. Our brain completes shapes, balances colours, interprets textures, reconstructs volumes. A camera cannot do all that.

The air is the medium in which we move, we live, we breathe. We take it for granted, and there is air everywhere we look. It is so familiar that we do not even realise. But when we see no air, we notice it immediately. Probably we don't know what's wrong, but we definitely know something is wrong. The same happens with a photograph. If there is air it feels familiar, nice, natural. When there is no air, we have a funny feeling that we choke and we don't know why.

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