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Thursday, 19 March 2009

How Not to Photograph: Photographers' Psychosis and The Long Runway

picture: Colin Pantall - from the Series, Jakarta: Everything matters, The Truth is Out There

Next up in How Not to Photography is The Long Runway. This, for Howard and Mittelmark is the one in which a character's childhood is recounted to no purpose. It is especially apparent in photography of children where the process of recording a child's life becomes obsessive and uncontrolled and every little detail has to be recorded and it becomes a lifetime's work that will never be finished because it will take a lifetime and everything just becomes unmanageable and out of control.

Here, the long runway just goes on and on and on - it's a runway without a destination about a subject that holds little interest to anybody else except for the besotted parent.

That's why, for all the photography of children made in both an informal and formal sense, there has been no satisfactory holistic depiction of the essence of childhood; partly because this is something that is so hard to depict visually, partly because the photography of children that does exist focusses on particular aspects of childhood in controlled and stable environments - so losing the emotional and physical chaos of childhood that is essential to a child's being. To make something meaningful, you have to get snippets and hope they resonate off each other, or else you are completely doomed. Instead of the Long Runway which goes nowhere, you have a series of day trips which you hope will present some further insights.

The Long Runway doesn't just apply to children though, it applies to anything one loves, anything where a degree of psychosis and OCD kicks in. And when the obsession kicks in, so does the need to explain, to provide the backstory of how this place, these people, these things came to be. I used to do this in Jakarta, photographing everywhere and everything, because what people really need to understand, and will obviously really be interested in (because I'm interested in it) is well, everything about the place - the transport, the people, the housing, the politics, the food - on the macro-level, the micro-level and the interaction and the outside world, because once you understand that, you understand everything. Because it all matters, it's all essential and how could you not be fascinated by it.

The idea is that by piling it all in, by revealing every aspect of a place and documenting it through the power of photography (and some pretty lengthy captions) , some grand and shining truth will beam out through the fog of randomness. My obsession is the key to everything!

Eugene Smith's amphetamine fuelledPittsburgh psychosis is the obvious example of this, but that is just the extreme of extremes. You can see it everywhere, we all do it, no matter where we are or who we are, just not as well as Smith, who did do it rather well. And the solution is simple enough - it's called editing. That and writing a book about it, rather than making photographs. Oh, and getting out more. That's always an important one.


Anonymous said...


colin pantall said...


Anonymous said...

I was thinking before I'd read half way through.. "editing".

Seeing how little you can get away with and still convey a point is sometimes very important.

colin pantall said...

Adam, don't try to get away with it. That's the point.

Anonymous said...

Eugene Smith - Amphetamines

Eugene Richards - Cocaine

Eugene Smith - Pittsburgh

Eugene Richards - Dorchester

Eugene Smith - Country Doctor

Eugene Richards - Emergency Room

Eugene Smith - Obsessive

Eugene Richards - Obsessive

colin pantall said...

Doh and I have Dream Street in front of me now! Thank you anonymous, it is corrected. Obsessive but AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

ok . I'll stand back from this. I'm either not understanding or seeing this as cynical? Don't try?

colin pantall said...

Adam - Don't try to get away with it, because trying to get away with it is the same as not trying - and everybody will be able to see it.

Editing and being concise and incisive is completely different to seeing how little you can get away with.