The July 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine featured an article by Lyle Rexler about photography, “Brighter Than a Billion Sunsets.”
The article begins:
Right now someone is taking a picture of a sunset. It could be on a beach in Barbados or above the Arctic Circle or on a motel balcony in Seattle. And that person is not alone. Thousands of people are taking exactly the same picture. No need to search for them; Penelope Umbrico has already done that. A photo-based artist, Umbrico has compiled thousands of images from the social-media site Flickr. She exhibits collections of them, each photograph tightly cropped to reveal only the sun. Seeing one of her wall-size installations forces us to confront the question: Why are we taking all these pictures? For a photographer, however, the more pressing question is: Are there any pictures left to take?
I participate in a popular photography website called Capture Minnesota. There you can find scads of beautiful pictures of sunrises, sunsets, autumn colors, waterfalls, shimmering lakes, and so on. No mountains – we don’t have those in Minnesota – but any kind of scenic view that exists in the American midwest is plentifully represented. I’ve certainly taken my share:
So are there any pictures left to take? My answer is: Yes – and there always will be.
While sunsets, lovely as they may be, all begin to look alike after a while, such is not the case with humans. People are endlessly fascinating. Brandon Stanton has capitalized on this brilliantly in his Humans of New York series.
Staged portrait photos can quickly become as interchangeable as sunsets. Where it gets interesting is when you can capture people in their unguarded moments, doing whatever they do. I first discovered this as a yearbook photographer in high school, back in the early 1970s:
I have rediscovered the allure of candid shots this year as a photographer for the Powderhorn 365 project. Some of them are displayed below. These people either allowed me to photograph them or weren’t aware that I was doing so.
I don’t personally know any of the people in these photos, but the images captivate me. What are these people’s stories? What are they doing? Why are they where they are in this particular instant I’ve happened to capture? In the pictures where there are two or more people in the scene, what’s the relationship between those people? What kind of energy is passing between them – if any? And if they are aware of the camera, what’s the relationship between the subject and the photographer?