from movies to photography

yes, paintings was the medium that informed photography in the early days, and perhaps would choke it to death, but for some photographers at the turn of the 20th Century that said... “hey, discover this.” 

in a simplification for the internets, and my bias of photography, these trails were dominated by Edward Weston [ link ] in one direction, and Paul Strand [ link ] in another. outside America, André Kertész [ link ] would be another force in this movement away from the grips of the painterly... and to “hey, discover this”.

perhaps for many in my generation, it is easier to watch movies throughout a longer period of life, thus an earlier start, than it is to be educated into the canon of photographers that began what we know as photography today.

in my case, Orson Well’s Citizen Kane made me take note of composition, and since I could not go after a movie camera, the question became: can I do that with photography? the magnificence of light, and Black and White tonality, would come at a later date. for now, I was tranced by the composition. in particular, the entrance into this scene:



perhaps it would have been Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc to offer the composition knock out, or German Expressionism since Fritz Lang’s « M » was also a knockout. however, silent film and early talkies were not something I sought in movies until recently.

many years passed since Citizen Kane until I was to be as shocked again about movies as inspiration for photography, though certainly many movies were appreciated for their cinematography in the interim — not the least The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner —  despite the growing loudness and in-your-face approach taken by Hollywood; this loudness and obviousness is not only visually, but also with scripts/dialogue.

then, a one two punch with The Double Life of Veronique by (the much missed) Krzysztof Kieszlowski [ link ], and In The Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai. for the first time, colour was revealed as a useful tool in a photograph, that is, used as a language that felt rather intuitively correct and emotive. in a way, colour was not illustrating the frame, it was offering a layered translation over the composition and use of light: colour, like composition and tonality, was an emotive element in synch with my view of a frame.

meanwhile, from the late 1920’s, Yasujirō Ozu [ link ] in Japan was beginning to develop an impressive body of work, starting with silent movies in the late 1920s. a total of 53 films were made by Ozu, and 26 in his first five years.  

fast-forward to Ozu’s Floating Weeds, itself a remake from his silent film era,  and one of his four colour movies and done a couple of years before his death. then there is this scene:

which can be contrasted, many years later, to Wong Kar-Wai’s:

Christopher Doyle (cinematographer for In The Mood For Love), presents an insight that can apply to both cases:

«  what happens in Western Cinema is “look at this, you are so stupid, you don’t know what we are trying to tell you, let me tell you something”... and we say “hey, discover this”. » — [ link ]

this idea is relevant in spite of Doyle having a completely opposite attitude towards camera placement/movement to Ozu. since Ozu controlled the direction and composition, as well as co-writing the script, more of his vision makes it into the final frame. two key concepts seem to be often referenced to Ozu’s work.

Kieszlowski practiced these Western Cinema values, but Ozu cinematically propelled, in his movies, the photographic composition — via a stationary camera — and the idea of mono no aware ( “the pathos of things” ) [ link ] in a patina of wabi-sabi [ link ]. a stationary camera/scene has an immediate impact to a photographer seeing his movies — a non-photographic mind my relate to a fixed scene as what happens in a theater.

these teachings from Ozu then inform a longer journey into one’s own photography, which perhaps started with a big bang of Citizen Kane. the idea then evolves into achieving a shift from “omg, look at this photo!!1!1!” to a more calm “hey, discover this photograph,” which is proxy to discover the photographer: a much richer experience, most certainly.