Sunday, January 25, 2009

Caught in Motion

Have you ever seen an image by Robert Doisneau, the Parisian photographer? They are very distinctive. What is remarkable in these photographs for me is how they typify moments of commonplace humanity captured with great beauty.

I was in Paris a few years ago at the same time as the opening of a retrospective of his entire life's work at the Hotel de Ville. A few of these photographs are featured in the Seconds Snatched from Eternity collection. His images feature many subjects, from Coco Chanel models to the kitchens of Parisian worker's apartments. All contain candid humour and great lightness. The commonality of essence within the diversity of subjects fascinated me.

It was only on finding one photo towards the end of the exhibition that I understood the craft and art of this photographer. It was a portrait of the artist himself (1949, at Jules Ferry). Doisneau would use an older style camera with a top sighting viewfinder. Hanging this at his waist he would set up the shot, but rather than being separated by the machine and the lens, would engage and be present to the moment around him. This is what enabled the magic of the engaged voyeur.

This made me think about my own inquiry practice. I will consciously seek, less to apply the mechanical lens and filters to capture an image of a mental projection on the photographic plate of understanding, and more to be open and involved while simply being aware to what is happening as an occurrence, rather than what just happened as evidence. The engagement, not the capture, is inherent in my epistemological bias.

The artifacts of such work then are nothing, except seconds snatched from eternity.

"I put all my trust in intuition, which contributes so much more than rational thought. This is a commendable approach, because you need courage to be stupid - it's so rare these days when there are so many intelligent people all over the place who've stopped looking because they're so knowledgeable." ~ Robert Doisneau

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