02.10.12

Whirr, click. Next slide please.

Posted in Photography, Travel at 17:06 by RjZ

How many of us even remember the whirring sound of the slide projector and the clunky clacking as it progressed from one image to the next? Slideshows used to be made with, well, slides. Individual, analog, pieces of celluloid that best captured the color and saturation of photos taken from some far away journey or remote location. All that saturation was likely wasted on the crappy screen or dying projector lamp, but it made the purists feel good that it was there, recorded in the image forever.

Even if you’re too young to have experienced the archtypal slide-show, you may still have had to sit through friends showing you pictures, one-at-a-time, and describing every detail of each image in what eventually becomes a droning blur. Actually, (depending on the speaker, I suppose) that doesn’t bother me at all, which goes a way in explaining my own style of blabbering for an hour long presentation of, what essentially, are only vacation photos. I can see how others might be scared off.

After most trips, I sort through a few thousand digital photos; carefully winnowing them down to, maybe a few thousand – 10; and research a bunch of things I should have known during the trip about the sites I’ve recorded. Then I send out an e-mail to local friends, inviting them to come over and sit in a dark room for an hour or more and look at my pictures while I talk over them. Snacks are included. It’s a wonder anyone ever comes, and even more surprising that they’ve come more than once.

Showing off your pictures to a dozen friends and hoping they won’t hate you for asking them to come, changes bit about how you take pictures. I’m learning to strike a balance between styles. There’s documentation snapshots: this is a picture of the pyramids, look, you can see the pyramids there and they’re big. Then, there’s the arty: just look at the bokeh (yeah, that got mentioned) in this shot of a chinese door knob. How do you know it’s in China? Um, well, it looks kinda Chinese and, um, the date on the photo’s EXIF data is during my trip there, so it’s gotta be from there. Nice shot, don’t you think?

I don’t go for the one-slide-at-a-time mode of presentations. People have seen movies. Regressing to anything less than 20 frames per minute is too slow for our attention starved world to tolerate. I wouldn’t see it as a compliment if people had time to look at their phones and text while I was telling them useless facts about how high that mountain is or how old this temple. The slides tick on by with my discussion about what we’re seeing. Sometimes it works well, sometimes I can’t finish a story in time, but hey, how much rehearsal do you want? You’re not paying for this!

As a result, I can afford to show a load of images (a thousand photos at four seconds per is still just a bit over an hour). I can document, with snapshots, and have a few pretty ones hoping for the coveted ooohs and aaahs, but what I am (all too) slowly teaching myself is to be a journalist. A good photo, even if up there for only a few seconds, captures something about the place; it tells a story; a unique story.

People connect, above all, with people. When I first started capturing snapshots I always waited and waited until people had finally left the frame. I still do it, but more and more, I’ve realized that people make nearly every shot better. Cerro Torre? beautiful. Cerro Torre with a solitary hiker making her way to the glacier? Beautiful and interesting. (No, I didn’t capture that!) I don’t yet know how to record good stories in a single frame. Today, I keep the camera with me for the whole trip and try to think about that slideshow later. I try to build up a story around the site: what was it like to get here, how did we travel, what did we eat? I can’t be sure if this is working, but somehow people do ask when the next show is going to be, so I’m on the right track. No matter, I am confident that having a purpose for my photos improves my photography. Or maybe people come by for the food. It could be the food.

1 Comment »

  1. Curt said,

    May 13, 2014 at 11:43

    I had to laugh reading this. When I first started taking pictures I always used slide film and now have card board boxes full of boxes of slides – most of which no one has ever seen but me. I couldn’t even get my kids or my wife to sit long enough to look at a small percentage of them. Admittedly, most of the pictures aren’t very good, but all of them are interesting to me because each one preserves a memory.

    But I’ve sat through other peoples slide shows of their vacations too and I know I’m fascinated for the first 20, interested for the next 20 and I’m just being patient after that – unless I was there. Then they’re all fascinating.

    Striking the balance on this is really tough. I’ve found that I’ve poisoned the well at work. I just recently returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon. Not a single person asked to see pictures. Several didn’t even ask if I had a good time. I’ve obviously shown them too many pictures and talked too long about previous trips and everyone is clearly afraid to get me started or they’re just not interested. So I’ve been trying a minimal approach. I select what I think are the best or most interesting 10 pictures and print those out on a color copier and that’s all I show anyone – unless they were along. In that case I give them a computer disk with the 100 best so that they can look at their leisure. On this last backpacking trip, a couple people didn’t bring cameras because they were expecting the computer disk afterward. I hope it was a complement. I took it that way.

    At this point I realize that if I take a picture, I’m going to be the primary audience and maybe the only audience. For years now I’ve been adding my favorites, many of which I haven’t shown to anyone, to the ’screensaver slide show’ on my computer so that I can enjoy them regularly.

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