Friday Photo: The Ineffable Moment

Friday Photo: The Ineffable Moment

So in today’s Friday Photo I’m going to ask what actually makes a photo a photo?  Is it as simple as freezing a moment in time or is it something more mysterious.  I’ll cut to the chase.  I think it’s something more mysterious.  You create a photo by pointing your camera at it, and by pressing the shutter at that exact point in time you freeze something so fleeting it almost didn’t exist.  Certainly not in the blurred way we all experience life.  Passersby didn’t experience this moment the way we’re looking at it now — it was rush hour at Brixton Tube in London.  I didn’t experience this moment the way we’re looking at it now — I was too busy taking the photo.  The woman in the photo didn’t experience the moment the way we’re looking at it now — she was facing into the sun, making a phone call.  So in a quasi Quantum Physics sense  you change something by your act of looking, and the act of looking in this case is a photograph, both at the point of taking it and now, with a paused appreciation of an image.  If I didn’t love the stand alone quality of this image so much I’d be tempted to break the fourth wall and show you the two shots either side of it.  But I do love it so I’m not going to.  But I will describe it.  It was not like this.  As people moved in and out of the station shadows fell across her face, blocking the beautiful light that hits her here.  In the previous shot she is simply looking down at her phone, and her body is relaxed, a little slumped as she finds the number.  In the shot after this she’s looking too far out of the frame and everything in her shape is different, the impact of this brief instance already gone.  This photo is the one time she looked like this, and the camera’s shutter speed was one three-hundred-and-twentieth of a second — think about that in the great expanse of time.  This moment exists because I took the photo but was I even in the moment taking the photo?  Not in the way we see it now.  This then is the great ineffable mystery of photography.  It is really the illusion of a moment.  So intangible it only ever existed now.

brixton street photography

And further to the way, through photography, this infinitesimal moment becomes a living breathing thing, my friend Ben dashed this off as a response when the photo popped up on Facebook:

‘Her face – that expression… She’s on the phone, but looking up; away, pensive? The box under her arm.. the shadows of the men lined up in the background – shadows she’s moving towards – and the vanishing point of the window accentuating her movement and drawing our eye towards the figures who’s shadows are behind her, but who must be waiting for her at the top of the stairs..’

I love that.  That once something exists it carries on radiating out onto the world and that new meanings and interpretations like this can be brought to such a fleeting thing.

NB.  For a lot more of Ben’s words, pre-order his brilliant debut novel now.  It’s tearing up a storm in America as we speak: The Last Pilot



Technical details for the photography wonks:

Camera: Olympus OMD-5

Lens: Olympus 17mm (translates as 35mm on a four-thirds camera)

Aperture: f4.5

Shutter speed: 1/320

ISO: 200

1 Comment

  1. Adam Riley

    You do have a way of capturing those moments that don’t exist Nick. Great shot!


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