Oh, candid photography, that type of photography that involves unposed people.
Recently, I’ve felt that when I bring up candid photography, this is what people think, and only think, of as candid photography, pictures of unposed people. But this makes it sound incredibly boring. Gregory Simpson of the ULTRAsomething Photography blog, which I’ve talked about before, wrote an article called “Fireworkzzz” in which he talks about taking pictures of things that “no one else bothers to photograph” at a fireworks event, such as people and their actions—unposed people—and not just more cliche fireworks photos. A very funny part of the article is when he is riding the elevator in his apartment complex and strikes up a conversation with a young women. She asks him if he got any “good shots” of the fireworks to which he replies that he didn’t take any pictures of fireworks. The women becomes suspicious: ““Then what did you photograph?”” she asks him. He goes through many things he could say, but because of the shortness of the elevator ride only answers with “people”. She replies with—this is the funny part—“Yeah. I like taking pictures of my friends too.”
His pictures were far from that; a very interesting one is of a semi-circular structure with children on top of each end, harsh back-lighting covering the structure and the children in shadows, creating a new visual experience. And it was candid, of unposed people, but so much more than that. There was thought put into it; his photographer’s eye was well used. The composition, the use of the rule of thirds works well, one set of children in one third, the other in the one across; our eye is lead from one child to the other, the curve of the structure helping our visual sweep of the scene. From this composition and use of backlighting, content in the photograph is created, a new mysterious shape of this pure black thing. The framing works; the large two thirds of white sky, moving the background crowd of people to the bottom of the photo, letting you focus on the structure and the kids. Nothing extraneous is there to distract you. This is a great example of candid photography, showing what it can be and what it should be, a sort of ‘playing’. The well-known Henri Cartier-Bresson touted the “Decisive Moment” where elements would converge to form a moment,a scene, the photographer being there, ready to ‘snap’ it up. Candid photography should be about this spontanaiety, this ‘play’ between everything in a photo, its content, composition, framing. The also well-known Joel Meyerowitz says in a video that what you put into the frame (of a photograph) determines its meaning. This is also very true; the frame is the photographed area, what is in it, what ‘plays’ in it tells something about the photograph.
Photographs should be about the balance of form and content, not a reliance on just one; this is what makes interesting photographs. And this is why I shoot candid photography. Not because I just like taking pictures of people, but because I think, through it, interesting photographs can be created when the people in front of you can be organized in a way that is visually interesting. This is candid photography.