Ansel Head felt he owed his family and friends some relief. Even though he was pretty certain that none had ever looked at his previous “Continuing Education” picture books, he felt their interest would be better served if he tried to improve his photography skills before gifting them new editions. To that end, he went to Jay Maisel’s week long, photography boot camp in the Bowery district of New York City. Eight others from around the world were also in attendance.
There the Brooklyn native and Yale graduate desperately strove to educate his minions on what constitutes a good picture. His opening instructions: “Get your ass out of bed before dawn so you can bring pictures to review.” Intense classes started three hours later with a break for lunch,two to three hours of afternoon shooting, three more hours of classes, and then dinner until ten or eleven. Five days of this ensued.
And just what was he trying to get the least intellectual Head boy to absorb. (The quotes that follow are directly from Maisel.)
Light is; it can be spectacular or dull; but it is the first thing that “calls to you”. “Use the light that is in front of you.” “Without it, you keep bumping into things and can’t see color or gesture.” “Be aware of the multiplicity of possibilities with light. The variety is infinite.”
Gesture reveals something about a person, place, or object. That something that gesture conveys could be an emotion, an idea, an opinion, an attitude, a feeling, or a history. It may be fleeting, only a moment in time. A photograph is a record of a moment in time. For the picture to resonate, we must capture gesture, that “decisive moment”, with clarity. Only then can a viewer perceive the gesture and thereby relate to the emotion, idea, opinion, attitude, feeling, or history that we saw and felt. All of this said another way is, “Gesture is the expression of what we are trying to shoot.”
Color is “not logical, it is seductive.” But do not “dilute the impact of color by adding more.” “What we want is the interaction of color.”
Light, gesture, and color are the voices that matter in a photograph. Any one of the three can carry the day if it is strong enough. But gesture, because it is about content, will always do the job.
One must learn to “see” light, gesture, and color before one can photograph them. Jay ended his class saying that for some, this will be easy; for others, it will be hard and a long time coming; and for others… Head wanted desperately to believe that he was in the hard, long time coming group; but there is little evidence in his photography that he has graduated to that level.