For me, photography is as much a spiritual exercise as it is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. I use photography as a documentary vehicle, as a meditation frame and as a way to connect to something beyond myself. So I am a seeker and a collector of images.
I’m not so different than millions of people who have taken up photography through the advent of digital technology. In fact, technology has given us all the power of image collection in ways the photographers of the first 100 years of this medium could never have imagined.
While some people despair that the ease of photography has only resulted in too many lousy photographs – I disagree. I feel that the very act of taking a photo is a powerful connective force that can be one small step in helping our world be a better place. Sharing photography with others only enhances this.
Humans are the only animals who can photograph and maintain a visual record of what we see. We share our photos with others who can perceive the vision and story in those photos. We share story — and story connects us in a mosaic of collective humanity. After all, it’s people who view photos – dogs and cows don’t care. But just because we all share story, it doesn’t mean our intentions are always laudable. Some people use the visual medium to exploit, shock and horrify; but there are less of them and they may find their humanity yet.
So, theoretically every picture tells a story.
Obviously, photojournalism is built on this concept. Some photos have literally changed the world because their story is so strong. You’ve probably seen photos such as Robert Capra’s “Falling Soldier” or Dorthea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” or some of the photos from Haiti in the aftermath of last month’s horrific earthquake.
These powerful photos have narratives. And it is narrative — the power of story — that I plan to explore as I take you along through my own photographic vision in my upcoming Life As A Human posts.
So I decided to start by showing you the photo above, taken in Florence in 2007.
This is one of my all-time favourites of my own work. We climbed from the busy streets of Florence to the peace of Piazelle Michelangelo, high above this magnificent city. I paused to take shots of the pale vista which contrasted with the irrepressible presence of the Duomo. Then, in a blink, a millisecond, an iota of time, the elements seemed to come together for me.
One of the things I love about photography is the necessity of seeing the shot and taking it before you lose it. That’s the challenge. Despite millions of images being snapped every day by millions of people with the latest digital cameras, you still have to be in the right spot at the right time, with the right position, right camera settings, right angle, and right attitude. There are millions of pictures of the Florence’s Duomo from Piazelle Michelangelo, but how many have the narrative of two nuns looking at a map while the great dome of a famous church hovers in the distance?
Or at least that’s how it looks in the photo. Even though the photo appears to capture a timeless moment of pondering heaven, in fact, the nun on the right only paused briefly in that spot before moving on. As well, there were tourists everywhere who magically cleared for the moment in time, the very brief moment I had to grab the shot.
Most photographs are taken in milliseconds. But if the photo succeeds, the story endures.
2 Nuns, Christopher Holt © chrisholtphotos.com